Finding a Russian Scapegoat for Tsushima

From Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear, by R. M. Connaughton (Orion, 2020), Kindle pp. 375-376:

Responding to the mood of a restless public, the authorities in St Petersburg sought to identify a scapegoat to account for the national humiliation at Tsushima. [Captain Nikolas L.] Klado [author of The Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War, 1905] derided Admiral Rozhdestvenski, accusing him of defeatism and failing to employ properly the reinforcements which Klado had been so instrumental in sending. Appearing in 1906 before the court in civilian clothes, Rozhdestvenski explained to the judges, ‘We were just not strong enough and God gave us no luck.’ The issue before the court was the surrender of the Bedovi. The Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, who had received a commiserative message from the Tsar, and his staff officer Semenov were exonerated on the grounds that they had not been informed of Commander Baranov’s decision to surrender in order to save the admiral, his officers and the remainder of the crew. Despite Rozhdestvenski’s insistence that the decision had been his, the court did not believe that his wounds would have enabled him to take a rational decision. Baranov, Clapier de Colongue and two other members on the Commander-in-Chief’s staff were sentenced to death. The Tsar intervened and those found guilty were dismissed the service and given varying periods of imprisonment. But these had not been major players in the battle. Someone more senior must be to blame. Rozhdestvenski had been exonerated, his deputy Felkerzam had died two days before the battle, so the next most senior was the commander of the decrepit but hard-hitting battleships, Admiral Nebogatov. Rozhdestvenski should be considered fortunate. His skill in bringing his ragbag fleet to within sight of Tsushima counted for little in relation to the mistakes made on the last leg. Naval strategists will continue to debate the issue as to which course he should have taken for Vladivostok but his significant failure was a failure to communicate. He never explained to his commanders his battle plan; the death of Admiral Felkerzam, the fleet’s second-in-command, was kept a secret, which contributed to the Russian fleet not being under command for three hours at the height of the conflict, and Rozhdestvenski made only two, ill-considered, orders to manoeuvre – both before the conflict.

Nebogatov was tried under Article 354 of the 1899 Russian Military Maritime Law for surrendering his four battleships, now repaired and commissioned into the Japanese fleet. Legally and morally he should have been exonerated but it had become expedient that someone should be identified as having been guilty for the defeat of the Baltic fleet. The quest to find a head was not extended to the corridors of Russia’s Admiralty nor to the Tsar’s noble advisers who had persuaded him to enter into this disastrous war in the first place. The court sentenced Nebogatov and his immediate subordinates to death, a punishment later commuted to ten years’ imprisonment.

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Filed under Japan, military, nationalism, Russia, war

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