islands were the site of one of the first major naval battle
s of the twentieth century. In 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war
, the Japanese fleet met the Russian Pacific Squadrons 2 and 3 in a 'fight to the finish.' Although Admiral Togo (commanding the Japanese flotilla
) was outnumbered - especially in 'fast and light' units - the Russian fleet was comprised of inferior ships, as well as hastily-completed new construction, and had sailed approximately three months through tropical
waters to reach the battle area. Marine growth
on their hulls, coupled with ships which were overloaded with coal
and the constant wearing strain of underway coaling in hot climates left the Russian crews sapped of strength and manning top-heavy vessels with their waterline armor belt
submerged due to overloading.
The battle had been coming for some time; the Japanese had broken off diplomatic relations in 1904 due to the Russian government exploiting resources south of the Yalu river on the Korean peninsula, which the Japanese regarded as their territory. After receiving no response to their final peace proposal, the Japanese opened hostilities in early 1905. At the time, the Russians had two major fleet bases in the region: Vladivostok and Port Arthur, the latter on the Liaotang peninsula. Each had a squadron stationed there. Admiral Togo opened hostilities with a surprise naval raid on Port Arthur; several cruisers and battlecruisers steamed into the port and shelled Russian vessels, escaping with no casualties. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they were unable to do much damage.
Finally, after several skirmishes, the two fleets met near the Tsushima Straits. In a fairly classic engagement, Togo's ships managed to reverse course and parallel the slightly slower Russian ships. Turning towards their opponents in an attempt to cross the T, Togo's superior gunnery and more destructive shells (based on a new explosive called shimao - cordite? - rather than the more conventional guncotton) wreaked havoc on the Russian forces. During this engagement, one of the Russian battleships earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first modern battleship sunk by naval gunfire.
At the finish, Japan, a newly risen power, had established herself as the predominant naval presence in the Far East. The Russian navy suffered a massive defeat which, some claim, hastened the onset of the Russian Revolution.