Marquis Tôgô Heihachirô
is considered the greatest admiral
in the history of the Japanese Imperial Navy
, and carries the nickname "Nelson
of the East." He was born in Satsuma
on December 22, 1847
, the fourth son in an affluent samurai
family, and fought for Satsuma in their 1863
war against Britain
, later joining the sonno joi
movement against the Edo bakufu
that culminated in the Meiji Restoration
From 1871 to 1878, Togo studied in Britain alongside eleven other Japanese cadets: at first, they were to enter the Royal Naval College, but after being denied entry they enrolled at the Thames Nautical Training College. Togo went on to serve as a midshipman aboard the HMS Worcester and Hampshire, and returned to Japan in 1878 as a sub-lieutenant in the Japanese Navy, aboard one of three ships purchased from British shipyards, the Fuso Maru.
Within eighteen months, the young Togo was already a lieutenant commander, and was working as an instructor at the new Tokyo Naval College, passing on the knowledge of naval warfare he had gained in England.
Togo's first command came in 1883, when he was assigned to the Daini Teihu and given orders to support and monitor the fleets of Britain, Germany, France, and the United States in and around China. Suddenly, however, he began to contract a severe case of rheumatism, and was forced to go into a brief period of retirement, during which he studied international law and diplomacy back in Japan.
A few months passed, and Togo's illness passed with them. He was given a new command, the Naniwa, and it was on this ship that he fired the first shots of the Sino-Japanese War, by sinking the SS Kaosheng on August 25, 1894. He then joined a four-ship fleet, under the command of Tsuboi Kozo, that defeated the Chinese navy under Ting Ju-Ch'ang at the Battle of the Yellow Sea on September 17, 1894.
After the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Togo returned to Tokyo to become a vice admiral and the dean of the Advanced Naval College. In 1899, he returned to the sea, becoming commander of the naval base at Sasebo, and taking over the Sasebo Fleet following the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. In 1902, he returned from a rather lazy reconaissance campaign in China, received the Grand Imperial Order of the Rising Sun from Emperor Meiji, and was placed in charge of building a new naval base at Maizuru, across the Sea of Japan from Vladivostok.
In 1903, before his job at Maizuru was complete, he was promoted to Commander of the Imperial Navy, in charge of a fighting force of over a hundred warships. He assembled a fleet at Sasebo, taking command of the battleship Mikasa, and led his navy out of Kyushu on February 6, 1904 to fight the Russo-Japanese War.
The war started outlooking less than impressive for Togo's record: at the Battle of Port Arthur, he let the Russian fleet escape with very few casualties, and spent the rest of 1904 chasing its ships around the Orient, eventually scattering most of them at the Battle of Ulsan on August 10. The Russian Navy sent another fleet from the Baltic Sea to China, but on May 27, 1905, Togo caught the new fleet in the Tsushima Strait, sinking six of its eight battleships with only three Japanese losses, all of them torpedo boats.
The Battle of Tsushima Strait made Togo a national hero: he was made Chief of the Imperial General Staff later that year, a post he held until 1909. He was made a count after returning from the coronation of George V in 1911, and became one of the young Prince Hirohito's tutors, accompanying the young Son of Heaven until his ascendance to the throne in 1926.
Togo was made a marquis of the empire on May 28, 1934, 29 years after his victory at Tsushima. The next day, he fell into a coma, and two days later, he was dead. Today, Togo is enshrined at the Togo Shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo: he was an inspiration to sailors around the world, including one Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who made sure that the Mikasa was preserved following World War II. Togo's legendary command can now be seen at Mikasa Park in the port of Yokosuka.