Surprising losses of the Russian Navy against Ukraine a century after Tsushima

  • The Russian Navy suffered heavy losses against an outnumbered and armed Ukrainian opponent.
  • The losses in themselves are not catastrophic for the Russian Navy, but they are blows to Russian prestige.
  • It also comes just over a century after another Russian naval disaster on the other side of the world.

Since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine in late February, the Russian Navy has done so suffer Outstanding losses against an opponent vastly outnumbered and heavily armed.

Russians Lost at least five Raptor Class Single patrol boats tapir class Landing ship, one Sirna Class And the Most notably, Moskvathe Slava-class homing cruiser was also the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet.

The losses themselves are not catastrophic for the Russian Navy and are unlikely to change the course of the war or the balance of power in the Black Sea, but they are blows to Russian prestige and come a little later a century later. Historic disaster For Russia: The Battle of Tsushima, the last time a major Russian Navy ship sank in combat.

Fought in the waters between Korea and southern Japan by the ships of the Japanese and Russian Empires on May 27 and 28 in 1905, the battle cemented Japan’s rise on an equal footing with the Western powers and had a lasting impact on both Japan and Russia.

Rival empires

Japanese Navy Ships Russo-Japanese War

Print of Japanese warships steaming to bomb Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Anne Ronan Images/Print Collector/Getty Images

Tensions between the Japanese and Russian empires have been rising since Japan’s overwhelming victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.

Japan, equipped with an organized and modern army, was pursuing ambitions in Korea and China that brought it dangerously close to Russian interests, especially in Manchuria and Korea.

Of particular interest to the Russians was Port Arthur, now Dalian, a Chinese port that had been leased to Russia and was the only Pacific port for warm waters. Port Arthur became the headquarters of the Russian Pacific Fleet and there were plans to connect it to Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Negotiations between Japan and Russia over the future of the region went nowhere, and so, on February 8, 1904, the Imperial Japanese Navy attack The main part of the Russian Pacific Fleet is in Port Arthur, and hours later officially declares war.

Russian Navy Ships Port Arthur Russo-Japanese War

Men on shore in front of the Russian ships Palada, left, and Pobeda, after they sank in Port Arthur in 1904.

Holton Archive/Getty Images

Japan gained a naval advantage relatively quickly. I fought off attempt By the main part of the Russian Pacific Fleet to break the blockade of Port Arthur and largely defeat the Russian squadrons stationed in Vladivostok in the Chemolpo Bay and Ulsan – victories that allowed Japan to effectively control the Pacific Ocean.

Unwilling to admit defeat, and with the Japanese ground forces beginning a Siege of Port Arthur itselfRussian Tsar Nicholas II ordered the creation of the 2nd Pacific Squadron, which was to consist of ships from the Baltic Fleet.

Commanded by Vice Admiral Zinovy ​​Rostvinsky, the 2nd Pacific Squadron consisted of about 40 ships, including 11 armored battleshipsNine cruisers and nine destroyers.

Sailing from the Baltic Sea in October 1904, they were supposed to ease the Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur, destroy any Japanese ships they encountered, and cut supply lines between Japan and mainland Asia.

Exhausted Russian fleet

Battleship of the Russian Navy Knyaz Suvorov

Imperial Russian warship Knyaz Suvorov, the Russian flagship of the Battle of Tsushima, at Kronstadt near Saint Petersburg in August 1904.

official photo

The Russian Navy was modernized during the latter half of the 19th century, but while the 2nd Pacific Squadron looked powerful on paper, it was not a first-rate naval power. Some of the warships were new and untested, but many were old and destined to be antique. Others were little more than auxiliary ships with cannons.

The leadership of the Russian Navy was also of low quality. Many of its officers came from wealthy, close-knit families who simply bought their commissions. Ordinary sailors were no more professional, as many of them were inexperienced conscripts.

These issues were on full display during the seven-month, 18,000-mile voyage to the Pacific Ocean.

While in the North Sea near England, the fleet opened fire on British trawlers, somehow mistaking them to be Japanese torpedo boats. Two fishermen were killed, another was injured, a fishing vessel sank and four others were damaged. Amid the chaos, some Russian ships fired at each other, causing casualties and damage.

Battleship of the Russian Navy Borodino

Imperial Russian warship Borodino at Kronstadt near Saint Petersburg in August 1904.

official photo

Diplomatic maneuvers were able to prevent the British from joining the war on the side of Japan, but the problems of the Russian fleet were only at first.

Most of the fleet sailed around Africa rather than the Suez Canal. The long voyage affected the crew, who had never experienced such a different climate or such a long time at sea. The ships themselves were also under great pressure. During artillery training with an imaginary target towed by a cruiser, the only thing that hit the fleet was the cruiser.

With no allies, the Russians could not dock in friendly ports, and so they had to take more coal while at sea. Conditions on board deteriorated, and a number of sailors died of respiratory ailments and diseases.

By the time the fleet was in Madagascar in January, Port Arthur had fallen. Their task was then changed: they had to meet the remnants of the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok before engaging the Japanese in a decisive battle.

Slaughtered in Tsushima

Japanese Navy ships Tsushima

The Japanese fleet sailed to meet the Russians at Tsushima early on May 27, 1905, as seen from the battleship Asahi.

Shigetada Seki via Wikimedia Commons

When the Russian ships finally reached the Tsushima Strait on the night of May 26, 1905, Rozhestvensky tried to slip unnoticed. Unfortunately for him, one of his ships was spotted by a Japanese guard ship.

Even worse, the Russian ship mistakenly believed that the Japanese ship was a missing Russian ship and indicated there were more Russian ships nearby.

After confirming the location of his enemy, Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro’s fleet, which included four modern battleships, more than 20 cruisers, 21 destroyers, and 43 torpedo boats, set out to confront them.

On the morning of May 27, the fleets called. Before firing, Togo raised the flag of a signal conveying a predetermined message to his fleet: “The fate of the empire depends on the outcome of this battle, let each man do his utmost duty.”

Russian Navy cruiser Oleg

The protected Russian cruiser Oleg, showing damage from the Battle of Tsushima in Manila Bay on June 27, 1905.

PH Proctor group via Wikimedia Commons

The ensuing battle was a massacre. In addition to improving training, discipline and experience, the Japanese were equipped with armor-piercing rounds that ripped apart Russian ships.

By the end of the day, four Russian battleships had sunk. Emperor Alexander III sank with its entire crew of more than 700, while Borodino sank with all but one of its 800-plus crew members.

The main ship, Knyaz Suvorov, and with it all but 20 officers, sank, while about half of the crew of Oslybya landed with the ship. A number of cruisers and destroyers were also sunk.

As night fell, the survivors tried to reach Vladivostok under cover of darkness. The Tōgō destroyers pursued them, capturing two other warships and several other warships. By the next afternoon, most of the survivors had surrendered.

prestige lost

Heihashima Tojo, Japan, Tokyo

Japanese Admiral Heihashima Tojo is welcomed back to Tokyo on October 22, 1905.

Ulstein Bild / Ulstein Bild via Getty Images

Russian losses were enormous, with 21 ships sunk or sunk and seven captured. Only three ships reached Vladivostok, while six more ships reached neutral ports in China, the Philippines and Madagascar.

More than 4,000 Russian sailors were killed and nearly 6,000 captured. The Japanese lost only three torpedo boats with 117 dead and about 500 wounded – including the young Isoroku Yamamoto, The mastermind of the attack on Pearl HarborWho lost two fingers in battle.

The prestige of the Russian Navy never recovered from Tsushima. Unable to be rebuilt to the same great size, it saw little to no significant work in World War I. The Soviet Navy also saw limited action in World War II and did not really establish itself during the Cold War, although Soviet submarines were a constant concern for NATO fleets.

Today, the Russian Navy Boasts a smaller and more modern fleet that focuses on green water operations rather than high seas campaigns, but its surprising losses against Ukraine show it has not regained the dominance it lost a century ago.