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Book Review, NRJ 67.1

February 11, 2023 4:27 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

The Battle of Tsushima

Phil Carradice

Phil Carradice’s The Battle of Tsushima recounts the fateful 1905 collision of the Japanese and Russian fleets in the eponymous straits - an encounter so decisive it left Russia’s navy in shambles and brought the Imperial Japanese Navy to world attention. Employing a dramatic writing style honed as a prolific author and novelist, Carradice gives the battle a personal treatment through the eyes of the Russians who faced catastrophic loss, drawing upon firsthand accounts of the battle and the 2nd Pacific Squadron’s impressive 18,000 mile voyage from the Baltic Sea.

Carradice attributes the startling Japanese victory at Tsushima to a combination of superior seamanship, the leadership of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, technological innovation like Shimose explosive powder, and the failures of Russian high command despite the efforts of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky and his intrepid sailors. More than geopolitical analysis or technical fleet comparisons, the bulk of Carradice’s text focuses on the experiences of the men who fought at Tsushima in the tremendous journey preceding the battle, and the tactical decisions in response to the disastrous engagement as it unfolded.

The Battle of Tsushima deals centrally with the Russian experience, with Rozhestvensky taking center stage. Though there is certainly no problem in limiting the scope of one’s work, the book would have greatly benefitted from a more thorough engagement with Japanese sources, and knowledge of Japanese history more broadly. Unfortunately, Carradice’s work also suffers from numerous factual errors--his Japanese monarch is “Maiji” (the ‘hourly’ emperor were this misnomer rendered in English), samurai anachronistically guard buildings over a decade after their caste’s dissolution, the British-built Japanese pre-dreadnoughts are “French-built vessels”(112), to name a few glaring ones--and the only in-text citations appear when directly quoting other works, so if these seeming inaccuracies are supported by secondary material readers are left without an efficient means of verification. While Carradice does introduce new primary source documents in his bibliography, it is otherwise a fairly slim section lacking in any organization that would indicate which chapters particular entries support- not to mention the questionable inclusion of multiple undated Wikipedia articles as sources. It is surprising to see that these issues (in addition to the forty-nine completely unsourced images which appear in the middle of the text) were not caught in the editorial process, particularly if the normally rigorous Naval Institute Press edition is identical to the British edition this review addresses. When one comes across these basic errors it is difficult to not become skeptical of the less familiar information provided in the rest of the work, and Carradice’s minimalist style of source attribution does little to bolster confidence in its quality.

If viewed as a narrative work for a popular audience, the story of the Russian fleet’s unexpected annihilation contained in The Battle of Tsushima is an easily read and entertaining sea story providing a concise and engaging summary of the climactic battle, but erroneous details and serious deficiencies in sourcing prevent it from being an authoritative scholarly contribution to the study of the Russo-Japanese War.

  • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2020
  • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xvii + 184 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95
  • ISBN: 9781526743268

Reviewed by: Dayan Weller, East Carolina University

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