May 27, 1905: The Battle of Tsushima is fought.
The Battle of Tsushima was a decisive battle fought during the Russo-Japanese War between (naturally) the Russian and Japanese navies on the Tsushima Strait, which connects the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Contemporary historians called it “the most important naval event since Trafalgar”, and it ended in the total and crushing defeat of the Russian forces present, which had included 28 ships (of which 21 were sunk by the much larger Japanese fleet). The battle took place over a year into the war and four months from its end, and two months after the Battle of Mukden, another important battle in which Russia’s land forces were defeated and driven out of Manchuria (northeast China), which was a major region in which Russia and Japan fought for dominance during the war, along with the Korean Peninsula. The Russo-Japanese War was borne out of the competing imperialistic goals of these two nations.
Of particular importance to both sides was Port Arthur, a port city on the tip of the Liáodōng Peninsula of Manchuria; the initial Japanese attack on Port Arthur marked the beginning of the war, and throughout the conflict it was blockaded, besieged, and finally captured. The fateful Battle of Tsushima began when the Russian Baltic Fleet, which had sailed from the Baltic Sea around the southernmost tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean toward Japan on an eight month journey, arrived to relieve Port Arthur. The Japanese fleet outnumbered the Russian and outmatched it in both speed and armament, which led to the Baltic Fleet’s near-total destruction in two days, and the establishment of the Imperial Japanese Navy as a formidable power on the seas.
In Russia, the war and the nonsensical nature of the government’s attempts to preserve its military power in Asia while unrest and misery brewed at home contributed to the general atmosphere of turmoil that became the Revolution of 1905. And Russia’s international reputation as a military power, already on the decline, declined even further after this humiliating defeat. Japan’s growing strength was regarded with wary eyes by each of the Western powers as well — its victory at Tsushima and its ultimate victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War shattered the notion that an Asian power could not possibly defeat a European one, as such a thing had never happened in modern times. Inspired by the conflict to enhance the United States’ own naval power, Theodore Roosevelt (who negotiated the war’s end) wrote in a 1906 letter:
In a dozen years the English, American, and Germans, who now dread one another as rivals in the trade of the Pacific, will have to dread the Japanese more than they do any other nation…. I believe that Japan will take its place as a great civilized power of a formidable type…. If we… try to treat them as we have treated the Japanese; and if at the same time we fail to keep our navy at the highest point of efficiency and size - then we shall invite disaster.
March 3rd 1918: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed
On this day in 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended Russia’s involvement in World War One, was signed by Russia and the Central Powers. Ending the war was one of the main aims of the new Soviet government after its successful seizure of power in the October Revolution. Leon Trotsky, as Commissar of Foreign Affairs, was vital to the negotiations of the peace. There were splits over the treaty within the ruling Bolshevik party between its leader Vladimir Lenin (who was in favour) and other senior figures (who wanted to continue the war to wait for revolutions in countries including Germany and Turkey). The first proposed treaty conceded huge portions of the former Russian Empire to Germany and the Ottoman Empire, which angered conservatives and nationalists and Trotsky refused to sign it. However the pressure to end the war heightened, the Bolsheviks signed the treaty and ceded much territory to Germany. Thus the treaty led to the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. The treaty angered many conservatives in Russia, and contributed to the Russian Civil War (1917 - 1923) between the Bolshevik Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Army.
Grand Duchess Olga describes an event of the Tercentenary Celebration in her diary:
Thursday, February 21, 1913
“Walked in the garden. Sunny, warm, muddy and windy. At 12:15 went to Kazan Cathedral for a prayer service. Papa and Alexei were up front in a carraige with a hundred escort guards…
“ My next visit to Moscow took place after the [temporary] fall of Ekaterinburg [to anti-Communist forces]. Speaking with Sverdlov, I asked in passing:
“Oh yes, and where is the Tsar?”
“Finished,” he replied.
“He has been shot.” “And where is the family?”
“The family along with him.”
“All of them?,” I asked, apparently with a trace of surprise.
“All of them,” replied Sverdlov.
“What about it?”
He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply.
“And who made the decision?,” I asked.
“We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn’t leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances.”
I asked no further questions and considered the matter closed.
- From an April 1935 entry in “Trotsky’s Diary in Exile.” Quoted in: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1990), pp. 770, 787.; Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra (New York: 1976), pp. 496–497.; E. Radzinksy, The Last Tsar (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 325–326.; Ronald W. Clark, Lenin (New York: 1988), pp. 349–350.