Friday, August 7, 2015

Battle of Tsushima and Court Martial of Admiral Rozhestvensky

Battle of Tsushima 

The battle of Tsushima in 1905 is well known. In this battle the entire Russian fleet that had sailed from the Baltic Sea was annihilated by the Imperial navy. The fleet with over 60 warships had sailed a distance of 18000 miles in the longest ever voyage in world naval history to battle the Japanese fleet in the Far East. The commander of the fleet was Vice Admiral Zinoy Rozhestvensky. 

The battle took place when a fateful decision by the Russian admiral to go through the strait of Tsushima ran the Russian fleet smack into the Japanese fleet commanded by Admiral Toga. Admiral Rozhestvensky commanded the battle from his flagship the battleship Suvorov.

 During the battle a shell fragment hit the Admiral's head and he was rendered unconscious. His battleship was sunk but before that he was transferred to a destroyer which was captured by the Japanese and the Admiral was taken POW. It was a colossal defeat for the Russian Navy 

The Surrender

 In his absence when he was unconscious, the fleet was surrendered by Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov to the Japanese. After this shameful defeat the Tsar Nicholos II ordered that a court martial be convened in Moscow to try the top Russian commanders for cowardice for surrendering to the Japanese. The admiral ( now recovered) was also tried. The court martial was a long drawn affair and continued through out 1906.

 Court Martial 

The Tsar knew that Admiral Zinoy was not responsible for the surrender as he had been rendered unconscious. The court martial was thus ready to give some latitude to the Russian commander. However in a rare act of responsibility Admiral Rozhestvesnsky insisted and took full responsibility for the surrender.

 This act of the admiral must be appreciated and showed that he was a man of great character.

 Last Word 

He thus displayed the highest qualities of command, control and leadership. Many captains of ships and other commanders were also tried and finally the Court martial sentenced the top Naval leadership to death by firing squad and many captains were sentenced to long terms in prison. The court martial was over

The Tsar realizing that the defeat had more to do with the circumstances than actual battle conditions pardoned all the officers including the Admiral and sentences of the captains were greatly reduced.

 The curtain was thus drawn on a shameful episode in Russian Naval history. Rozhestvensky died a recluse in St Peters-burg in 1910.