JR Potts, AUS 173d AB (Updated: 5/9/2013):
Japan, realizing the true Russian intent in Asia, began to build up its military strength with an increased naval program at the end of 1890. She constructed six battleships and six heavy armored cruisers. The last of these battleships was the Mikasa ordered by the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) and built at the Vickers shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom. Mikasa was modeled from the Royal Navy's Majestic-class design and delivered to Japan in 1902 at a then-record cost of 8.8 million yen. The Japan of the 1800's did not possess the indigenous heavy industry building facilities nor the technology to construct modern big gun warships and, thusly, all of her battleships and heavy armed corvettes from the era were primarily built in England - the nation that had developed the 12-inch (305mm) naval gun, and possessed the required shipbuilding facilities with their highly trained shipwrights. The battleship Mikasa was designed with a displacement of 15,140 tons, a maximum speed of 18 knots in ideal conditions and the heaviest main armament of the day - 4 x 12-inch (305 mm) 40-calibres Mk III guns. When commissioned in 1902, the Mikasa was one of the most advanced battleships of her time.
The Mikasa left British waters after her requisite sea trials and steamed with her new IJN crew on her maiden voyage to her home port in Japan. She became a ship of great national pride to the Japanese people and served as the flagship of Admiral Togo Heihachiro. By 1903, negotiations between Russia and Japan proved useless and war began on February 4th, 1905. Japan trapped the Imperial Russian Navy's First Pacific Squadron in Port Arthur and, in late July, the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to the port. This required Russia to mount a counter strike against Japanese naval forces or withdraw from Asia altogether.
On February 9th, 1904, five days after war had been declared, naval history's first major confrontation between modern steel battleships fleets occurred when Admiral Togo's fleet engaged in a 20-minute duel with Russian Admiral Stark's battleships in Port Arthur. The "Battle of the Yellow Sea" on August 10th, 1904, was an attempt by the Russian fleet at Port Arthur to break out and form up with Russian warships from the port of Vladivostok. The Russians had six battleships, four protected cruisers and fourteen destroyers on hand. Admiral Togo Heihachiro was on board the flagship Mikasa with three other battleships, two armored cruisers, eight protected cruisers, eighteen destroyers and thrity torpedo boats on call.
The Yellow Sea engagement lasted seven hours and of this roughly four hours were taken up by actual combat between the forces. The fleets reported 7,382 rounds being fired and Mikasa was hit 20 times with her aft main turret knocked out of action. Togo's fleet suffered two battleships severely damaged, one battleship marginally damaged, one protected cruiser slightly damaged and 226 killed and wounded. The Russian fleet reported one battleship as severely damaged, five battleships slightly damaged and 48 killed and a further 292 wounded. Despite the fighting, the outcome of the battle was a deemed a tactical draw for both sides - nothing gained, nothing lost.
The Russians understood that they would lose Port Arthur and, eventually, their entire foothold in Asia unless they defeated the Japanese Navy. With the no resolution in the Battle of the Yellow Sea, it was decided to send part the Baltic fleet steaming over 18,000 miles to Japanese waters and link up with Russian ships from Port Arthur and possibly Vladivostok in a combined forces maneuver designed to destroy the bulk of the Japanese fleet. The formation of the Second Pacific Squadron consisted of twenty-eight vessels, or five divisions, of the Baltic Fleet including eleven of its thirteen battleships. The squadron departed Russian waters for Japan under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky on October 15th, 1904. Due to a lack of friendly coaling bases en route, the Russian ships carried surplus coal stacked on their decks.
The Russian Second Pacific Squadron sailed through the North Sea and fired upon British fishing trawlers, causing the Royal Navy to shadow the Russian fleet and bar their request to sail through the Suez Canal. This forced the Russians to sail around Africa and anchor at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina in May of 1905. The voyage was long and the crew was naturally fatigued, starting to look with disfavor upon their overseeing Russian officers. News reached Rozhestvensky that the city of Port Arthur had fallen so linking up with the Russian ships in the port of Vladivostok now became the primary objective of the fleet.
The Russians chose to sail through the strait of Tsushima to reach Vladivostok. Admiral Rozhestvensky chose Tsushima in an effort to shorten his cruise. The Second Pacific Squadron consisted of 28 vessels made up of 8 battleships, 3 coastal battleships, 8 cruisers and 9 destroyers. Admiral Togo, based at Pusan, Korea, believed the Russian course would be Tsushima and amassed a fleet of 89 vessels to counter the Russian fleet. The Japanese flotilla encompassed the Mikasa and three other battleships, 27 cruisers, 21 destroyers, and 37 torpedo boats plus gunboats as well as additional auxiliary vessels. On paper, the Russian fleet had the advantage of battleships but many were older and in need of repair. However, they did possess a numerical superiority of heavy guns. Conversely, the IJN had the knowledge of the waterways and held numerical superiority in ships. Additionally, the Japanese Navy used high explosive shells that inflicted greater damage on surface vessels than the armor piercing rounds being used by the Russians. The Russian sailors were also tired after their long voyage while the Japanese were in home waters and expertly drilled.
The Russian squadron attempted to navigate the strait on the night of May 26th, 1905. Togo had placed a number of picket boats in the strait; the picket cruiser Shinano Maru radioed Togo the Russian position, heading and speed around 4:55 AM. The Japanese radio technology was superior to the ones used by the Russians and Togo ordered his fleet towards the Russian formation, engaging them at 1:40 PM. The Russians sailed as two columns towards the Japanese Fleet who made a u-turn, blocking the Russian route to Vladivostok. The fleets opened up and the Japanese ships hit the Russian ships with greater numbers and better accuracy.