A Russian squadron traversed the globe in 1904–5 to turn the tide of war in the Pacific, but when its bedraggled ships and sailors finally arrived, defeat was their destiny.
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 ended on a disastrous note for imperial Russia. At the Battle of Tsushima, 27–28 May 1905, the Second Pacific Squadron (formerly ships of the Baltic Sea Fleet) made its last dash to reach the relative safety of the Russian naval base at Vladivostok—the squadron’s destination after the fall of Port Arthur to the Japanese on 2 January 1905. The squadron had endured an ill-fated trip to the far side of the world only to suffer a combat debacle of historic proportions. The final tally of ships and men lost attested to the one-sided nature of the defeat. Of the 38 Russian combatants involved in the battle, only three eventually found their way to Vladivostok. The rest suffered a variety of fates: Some were sunk by Japanese gunfire or, in a few cases, scuttled by their own crews; others struck their flags and surrendered; a few managed to make neutral ports where they were seized by the local governments. In all, nearly 5,000 Russian officers and sailors died (vs. 110 Japanese deaths), 7,000 were taken as prisoners of war, and an additional 1,862 were interned in neutral countries. 1