Marine Events of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 in the Soviet Historiography


SECTION 9. Historical sciences

subsection 6. History of Russia


Pyshnograev S.V.

postgraduate student of the

Voronezh State Pedagogical University 


Marine Events of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 in the Soviet Historiography


The Russo-Japanese War is widely reported in the scientific literature. Its experience was studied not only in Russia but also abroad. The majority of researches pay attention to the land seat of war meanwhile the marine events are practically not covered with the exception of the most important events (feat of arms of the cruiser Varyag, naval battle on the 28th of July, 1904, Tsushima – S.P.), there are practically no monographs that can throw the daylight upon the certain pages of the Russo-Japanese War (for example, cruising operations of the Russian navy, the actions of the Port Arthur squadron).

There is a tendency to consider the Russo-Japanese War as initially cut out for failure in the Soviet historical literature. 

In 1942 P.D. Bykov’s book “The Russo-Japanese War. Marine actions” was published [1]. The author considers the situation in the Far East before the war, the preparations of the sides for the operations and the war plans, describes the military events at sea beginning with the Japanese torpedo boats raid into Port Arthur and ending with the battle in Tsushima Strait, sums up the results of the war in the field of navy art in conclusion. The author divides the actions of the navy into two periods – Port Arthur and Tsushima.

The author characterizes the Port Arthur period as a loss of opportunities period, he notes that the mistakes made by the navy headquarters at the beginning of the war were completely corrected in the S.O. Makarov’s command period, but after his death everything repeated.

He estimates the Tsushima period even worst than the previous one. The researcher considering the organization of the Z.P. Rozhdestvenskiy’s squadron marks that it wasn’t prepared for the war because of the differences among the ships, the most of which were deteriorated, the personal membership of the squadron was trained badly.

Considering the causes of the Tsushima tragedy the author sees the technical imperfection of the Russian up-to-date ships like “Borodino” as one of the defeat causes along with unskillfuled command, that is disproved by the number of sources (for example, by V.P. Kostenko’s memoirs [7]).

B. Kolchigin and Y. Razin consider the Port Arthur’s defence and the navy participation in it. The authors pay much attention to the navy base strength. They note that the city wasn’t ready at all for the defence and couldn’t provide the normal naval forces location and the city Dalniy that situated not far away from Port Arthur was a good base for the Japanese in the process of preparing and supported their siege forces. In tote they give extremely negative characteristic of the Port Arthur as a naval base.

Though the authors highly evaluate the Port Arthur’s significance as a Far East outpost for Russia. According to the researches’ opinion, the Port Arthur seizure was a key to the Pacific Ocean supremacy for Japan, because there was no American navy in that time and the British one protected its metropolitan state.

The researches compare the Port Arthur’s surrender with the Sevastopol surrender, noting that it was the repetition of the same mistakes but on the higher technical level.

B. Kolchigin and Y. Razin highly evaluate the seamen’s contribution to the Port Arthur’s defence, but at the same time they notice that the navy providing the defence refused from its main aim and lost its significance as an independent fighting force.

 “The History of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905” under the editorship of I.I. Rostunov [4] doesn’t give a detailed consideration of the navy participation in the war. It gives only a detailed consideration of the Port Arthur defence and Tsuchima battle. Some attention is given to the operations provided by the Vladivostok cruising detachment.

In conclusion the author marks out everything new that the Russo-Japanese war brought into the development of the naval science - minelayers, sweep caravans. The conflict contributed to the further battleship class development that became the main fighting force on seas till World War II.

At the same time the author doesn’t give any accurate conclusions on the occurred events. He gives only the description, doesn’t formulate his point of view, presents the references to the V.I. Lenin’s estimation of the Russo-Japanese War. That is the characteristic of the Russian historiography development in that period (the monograph published in 1977 – S.P.).

 “The Russo-Japanese War” written by N.A. Levitskij is one of the generalizing classic works [8].The author focuses on the land seat of war referring to the marine one only casually. However it should be noted that he characterizing the Vladivostok defence potential speaks only about three cruisers of the Vladivostok cruising detachment while there were four and one auxiliary cruiser in it.

However such insufficient description of the marine hostilities can be explained by the fact that the work was written in conjunction with P.D. Bykov’s monograph “The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905. Marine actions”. On this score the author pays attention to the Port Arthur defence.

Describing fighting actions he praises the actions of admiral S.O. Makarov and blames the other commanders like admirals V.K. Vitgeft, N.I. Skrydlov, R. N. Viren, Z.P. Rozhestvenskiy. That was typical for the historians of that period.

The evaluation of Z.P. Rozhestvenskiy is extremely negative in this research. A.I. Sorokin blames only him for Tsushima, giving the following characteristic to the flag officer: “The squadron was without a commander capable of leading it into the battle, managing it. In this regard Rozhestvenskiy was on the chief of the watch level on board a flagship. Only gold epaulets helped to tell him from this military rank” [11, p. 310].

The characteristic of the Vladivostok cruising force operations is given in this research. The author characterizes their actions as unreasonable, irresolute and episodic, though highly effective.

Evaluating Japanese naval commanders he notices their lack of military talent. The situation is the same with the Russian admirals, but the main advantage of the Japanese is their resoluteness as he mentions.

According to the author’s opinion the 1st Pacific squadron readiness for war is higher than the 2nd. It is proved by such factors as the comparison of the Yellow Sea battle results (July, 28) and Tsushima (May, 14-15, 1905).

Not many works were devoted to the direct study of the marine fighting actions during the Russo-Japanese war. V.A. Zolotorev and I.A. Kozlov’s research is one of them. It was prepared on the document material basis [3]. The actions of the 1st Pacific squadron, Vladivostok cruising detachment, Voluntary navy auxiliary cruisers and the 2nd Pacific squadron are thoroughly considered in the monograph.

The actions of the Port Arthur squadron are traditionally evaluated positively in the S.O. Makarov’s command period, but the researches notice that his death was a turning point in the squadron destiny, because this fact completely demoralized the seamen. They didn’t try to restore the traditions of the thunder run techniques that were followed by S.O. Makarov, because they admitted the marine superiority of the Japanese in advance.

Concerning the 2nd Pacific squadron the authors think that “…the solution of the tsarist government and the admiralty heads including Rozhestvenskiy as a head of the Chief marine headquarters to send the 2nd Pacific squadron to the Far East in that situation that was formed at the seat of war by that time was unreasonable” [3, p. 164], but the commander was presented not as an untalented admiral but as a serious military leader, but there are some mentions of his passivity during Tsushima battle.

Besides the little-known page of the Russo-Japanese War history like cruising operations conducted by the Russian navy are considered in the monograph. Firstly these are the Voluntary navy actions on the ocean marine communications. The authors characterize the auxiliary cruisers actions as the most prepared among the other navy operations during the Russo-Japanese War. The authors note that the rapid stopping of the operations under the foreign world powers pressure is the only drawback in their actions.

I.A. Kozlov develops this theme in his article [5]. He generalizes the experience of cruising operations accomplished by the Voluntary navy and discloses their value for the marine art development.

The Vladivostok cruising force actions are characterized as episodic but highly effective. 

V.Y. Yegoryev’s monograph is the only research directly devoted to the Vladivostok cruisers actions [2]. The detailed analysis of their actions is given in the work. The author gives them a positive evaluation, at the same time marking out their drawbacks, among which are badly-provided intelligence data and cruisers actions as a one detachment that considerably reduced their actions area.

The author notes that Vladivostok squadron destruction became the top priority task for the Japanese United Navy, comparable in importance with the 1st Pacific squadron liquidation. In terms of the Japanese geographical location and the importance of the marine communication lines for it (that is proved by the Japanese sources) it is possible to agree with this statement. 

P.M. Melnikov and L.L. Polenov’s monographs [9, 10] should be marked out, because they are devoted to the ship history, Russian navy: cruisers “Ryurik”, “Rossiya”, “Gromoboy”, “Aurora”.

P.M. Melnikov discloses the history of cruisers like “Ryurik” from the project development till the last service days. As all these ships (“Ryurik”, “Rossiya”, “Gromoboy”) entered the Vladivostok cruising detachment, there is valuable information about its actions in the monograph. The author writing this work used not only V.Y. Yegoryev’s research “The Vladivostok cruisers operations” but he also attracted a new circle of sources and literature including Japanese.

The information about the state of affairs in the 1st Pacific squadron before and during the Russo-Japanese War is given in the work besides the information only about ships and their service. The author characterizes the vents connected with the 2nd Pacific squadron particularly characterizing admiral Z.P. Rozhdestvenskiy as “one of the most odious figures of naval administration during pre-Tsushima period” [9, p. 254] and considers him as a tough, self-assured, despotic and willful person, who neglected the necessity of the sailors’ general development  and wasn’t interested in the ship commanders’ views. In the judgment of P.M. Melnikov the commander himself made the conditions for the Russian squadron destruction by the Japanese squadron.

L.L. Polenov’s monograph has a structure similar to P.M. Melnikov’s work. He considers the project development, construction, testing and further service of the ship. L.L. Polenov notes that the 2nd Pacific squadron level of training including “Aurora” was “low because the ship’s crew half-consisted of the recruits and reserve sailors, who didn’t know or had already forgotten the technique. The reserve officers were also badly prepared” [10, p. 108].

He characterized the 1st rank captain V.Y. Yegoryev as an experienced, knowledgeable officer who prepared the crew for the further difficulties.

Evaluating the war events especially Tsushima L.L. Polenov agrees with P.M. Melnikov on the whole.

Thus we can conclude that an extremely negative evaluation of the Russo-Japanese War events was formed in the Soviet historiography.




  1. Bykov P.D. The Russo-Japanese War. Marine actions. – M.: Publisher EKSMO, Izografus; St. Petersburg.: Terra Fantastica, 2003. – 672 p.
  2. Yegoryev V.Y. The Vladivostok cruisers operations. – L.: Naval
    Publishing, 1939. – 150 p.
  3. Zolotarev V.A., Kozlov I.A. The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905.: The struggle at sea. – M.: Science, 1990. – 256 p.
  4. The history of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 / under the editorship of I.I. Rostunov. – M.: Science, 1977. – 384 p.
  5. Kozlov I. A. Fighting actions of the Russian auxiliary cruisers at the oceanic communications during the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 // Military-historical journal. – 1972. - #5. – p. 92-97
  6. Kolchigin B., Razin Y. The Port Arthur defence during the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 – M.: Military Edition National Defence Commissariat USSR, 1939. – 92 p.
  7. Kostenko V.P. On board of “Orel” in Tsushima. – St. Petersburg.: “Gangut”, 2007 – 720 p.
  8. Levitskiy N.A. The Russo-Japanese War. – M.: Military Edition National Defence Commissariat USSR, 1938. – 360 p.
  9. Melnikov P.M. “Ryurik” was the first. – L.: Shipbuilding, 1989. – 256 p.
  10. Polenov L.L. Cruiser “Aurora”. – L.: Shipbuilding, 1987. – 264 p.
  11. Sorokin A.I. The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 – M.: Military Edition Military Ministry USSR, 1956. – 376 p.
  12. Shirokorad A.B. The Port Arthur’s Fall. – M.: Ltd “AST Publisher”, 2003. – 506 p.