Russo - Japanese Naval War 1904-1905: vol. 2

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Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Piotr Olender, Illustrated by Robert Panek - scale plans
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Softcover; 160-pp; 0-color
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Front cover

My thanks to Roger Wallsgrove, Editor-in-Chief of Mushroom Model Publications, who provided this review sample. I have had the pleasure of meeting him and his team at Nationals.

The Russo-Japanese War was the opening salvo in a series of conflicts that would dominate the first half of the 20thcentury and upend the status quo of the world’s great powers. Waged at the height of European colonial period, it would signal Japan’s entry onto the world’s stage and portend the demise of the Russian Empire 12 years later. Russia, like Turkey was a “sick man” of Europe and Japan was ready to wrest control of the Far East from Moscow’s influence. The series of Japanese victories and the decimation of the Russian Navy shocked the world and provided a stage for President Theodore Roosevelt to increase the stature of the United States. Much was written soon after the Treaty of Portsmouth but the war and these respective writings were overshadowed by the epic struggle of the World War of 1914-1918. One hundred years later it is refreshing to re-visit such an important conflict.

In this the second volume by Piotr Olender, he deals with the major events leading up to the Battle of Tsushima and the demise of the Russian Pacific and Baltic Squadrons. This volume is 160 pages, with the narrative supplemented by 93 period photographs and illustrations, 11 diagrams, 12 tables, and 60 drawings of Russian ships. The chapters are laid out in chronological order and are split between two topics of focus, Vladivostok and Tsushima, with the chapters chronicling the events surrounding these major events in the war. The chapters are short but interesting and the story tells tends more to a narrative of facts and events. With access to Russian primary sources and extensive bibliography of period publications, this book is authoritative as it is interesting. For this reason this volume (and I am sure too Vol. 1) is told more from the Russian perspective and the challenges these forces faced.

The focus of this volume really is on the Battle of Tsushima and the events associated with the series of engagements that make up the battle. While there is a section on the back and forth naval actions involving the 1stPacific Squadron in Vladivostok, these are more of a scene setter to the coup de grace of Tsushima. In fact only 20 pages are devoted to the events around Vladivostok. The most familiar and most part of the Russo-Japanese War was the Battle of Tsushima and the destruction of not only the Fleet in the Russian Far East but also that of the ships sent from the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets to reinforce the 1stPacific Squadrons. The author devotes 50 pages to the story, but far more could be written. It was an immense undertaking to send so many vessels in questionable states of readiness such an immense distance with sketchy logistics, no intelligence, lots of rumors, and little long range communications. Things seemed to go wrong from the start when the 2ndPacific Squadron enroute from the Baltic, fired on a British fishing fleet in the English channel under the mistaken belief that Japanese forces were operating so far from home. How the ships got to the Far East as a fighting force, despite numerous incidents along the way is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Russian leadership afloat and ashore at various consulates. It was this part of the story that I was most amazed by. It is a shame that the Warfighting prowess of this force did not match their logistic ingenuity.

Tsushima unfolds as a series of engagements between an overly-centralized, unseasoned combined Russian fleet with no real plan of engagement against a well trained, seasoned Japanese Fleet with very sophisticated plans. The ensuing chapters detail the Russian catastrophe and the piecemeal destruction of their fleet. The author does a good job outlining the flow of what to be confusing engagements. He then goes on to convey that during the disarray and retreat, the Russians were hunted down by a Japanese force always one step ahead and waiting. To the West, this was the most shocking aspect of this whole war, the systematic destruction and dismantlement of the Russian Navy by such a small nation. The final few chapters deal with the aftermath of the battle: more Russian ships lost to internment, the loss of Sakhalin Island (a fact I did not know - there was so much cold war talk about Stalin taking it from the Japanese, when in fact they had taken it from Russia) and the ensuing peace negotiations and treaty in Portsmouth, NH.

The back end of the book contains appendices filled with information about the Russian and Japanese ships involved in the conflict. Included is an appendix of illustrations by Robert Panek of all of the Russian ship classes involved. These drawings are for the most part scaled to 1/350 except a few of the smallest vessels.

I found this book informative on many levels, not only as a narrative of events, but of the naval details which are quite hard to find. Since receiving this review edition I have collected some period narratives, mostly from the Japanese side, so I am looking forward to comparing this new and revealing information against what was believed at the time. In June of 2010 I had the opportunity to visit IJN Mikasa and see the Japanese perspective. Since reading this volume, my perspective on the war has not changed, the Russians were still a bit hapless, but now I better understood the odds they faced. A must read for anyone with an interest in the roots of 20thCentury naval warfare and later the war in the Pacific.


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