Lisbon Maritime Museum

Lisbon maritime museum

Lisbon is a great place to visit, but its streets and hotels are so crowded and noisy that some might find it best to stay outside the city, for instance on the beachfront at Cascais (try the Hotel Baía), and take the excellent train or other public transport into the city for specific daily activities. One of those visits might include a call at the Maritime Museum at Belém, a short train, tram or bus ride from central Lisbon.

To find the museum, look for the Monastery of Jerónimos (left) 500 metres inland, or the prominent Fairey IIID seaplane metal sculpture monument on the nearby riverfront.

It might be easy to miss the Lisboa Museu da Marinha, even though you know its entrance is in the west wing of the 16th century Monastery of Jerónimos. If in doubt, look along the waterfront for the prominent Fairey IIID seaplane monument, near the elegant Tower of Belém and the towering Monument to the Discoveries sculpture.

The massive Monument to the Discoveries.

The Tower of Belém, with its water-washed dungeons below, was built in 1519 in the middle of the Tagus River, but the river moved and it now stands on the embankment. The Discoveries Monument was erected in 1960, to commemorate the death 500 years before of Henry the Navigator. At its top are unsurpassed Lisbon views. About half a kilometre back, across the train track and parkland, is the Monastery of Jerónimos. The monastery celebrates the return of Vasco da Gama and the riches he brought back from the East. On its western (left) side is a ships anchor and a wide concrete pavilion. Directly ahead of the concrete pavilion is the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium, an interesting museum in its own right. On its right side is the entrance to the Maritime Museum and to the left is the modern-looking Galliot Pavilion, another exhibition wing of the surprisingly interesting Lisbon Maritime Museum. 

The museum is open 1000 to 1700 (1800 in summer) and is closed Mondays and public holidays. Admission is about Aus$4.00 (seniors half price). Half a dozen bus lines pass by, the Numbers 15 and 17 trams stop outside the monastery and the Belém station on the Oerias slow train line is about one kilometre away to the east. This train may be boarded in Lisbon from the central waterfront Cais do Sodré  terminal.

Atlantic crossing

The full-sized seaplane monument is constructed from enduring polished metal. It commemorates the pioneering efforts of the Portuguese Navy in a June 1922 first crossing of the South Atlantic. Three Portuguese Navy seaplanes set out, but only one, the Santa Cruz, completed the crossing from Lisbon via the Azores to land safely in Rio de Janeiro. The others apparently were damaged during landings at open-ocean refuelling stops.
LCDR Sacadura Cabral and CMDR Gago Coutinho crewed the successful aircraft. This original Fairey IIID may be found inside the Galliot Pavilion section of the museum, alongside a couple of other early seaplanes and a number of historic small craft. There is also a huge electronic map on the wall behind that illustrates the various phases of the saga.

fishing boats
As well as the trans-Atlantic seaplane flight commemoration, there are a number of interesting old fishing boats in the Galliot Pavilion.

“The pageant and the glory that characterised Portugal’s domination of the high seas are evoked for posterity in the Maritime Museum, one of the most important in Europe,” say D. Porter and D. Prince in Frommer’s 99 Europe, Macmillan: New York, 1998, p 808.The museum itself contains a remarkable collection of models and small boats. Right inside the entrance is a display of 15th century Japanese armour, reminding us of the part the Portuguese “black ships” played in the early trade days with Japan. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Japan, in 1543. They led others who traded silks and porcelain from China for lacquers and silver from Japan. The “namba-jin” (barbarians who have come from the south) also introduced firearms and Christianity to Japan. The Jesuits were not slow to follow the flag in their desire to win converts and influence.

Vasco da Gama

The entire museum focuses on the important role of Portugal in discovery and trade, especially its influence in the critical 15th to 18th centuries. Henry the Navigator is appropriately honoured. His initiatives and genius led to studies and voyages that totally reshaped European medieval concepts of the world. Reminders of Christopher Columbus and his Santa Maria are there, as are other navigators, including Vasco da Gama, whose tomb may be found in the nearby Igreja de Santa Maria de Belém. A model of da Gama’s São Gabriel is in the museum, recalling his 1497-99 voyage with four ships and 170 men, of whom 116 were lost. His richly-laden caravels moored off Belém on their return from India.

Not forgotten are 30 or 40 small and large craft, many lateen-rigged, that carried brave (or foolhardy) Portuguese fishermen further and further out into the Atlantic Ocean in search of fish. Also exhibited are navigation instruments, including a rare 15th century astrolabe, and a number of very early maps and charts. In the Galliot Pavilion, as well as the aircraft, are a number of small sailing craft and a 38-oared richly decorated Royal Galley.

When next in Lisbon area, consider making the short trip to the Maritime Museum and the adjacent Monastery of Jerónimos. There are other attractions nearby. If time permits, visit the Tower of Belém and the Discoveries Monument, both within walking distance, just down the road along the river.

Australian National Maritime

Australian National Maritime Museum

 The first impact of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) is impressive. This is due in no small measure to its unique architecture (left) and perfect setting in Darling Harbour.

Once inside, the same standard is maintained with a series of world-class displays of maritime objects and interactive exhibits. Additionally, the retired RAN vessels, Vampire and Onslow are great attractions while the fully restored barque James Craig is secured close by at the refurbished $20 million Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage Centre. Interactive CD audio tours are available at no extra cost for standard admission ticket holders. There is always something new, it seems, at the ANMM.

The RAN and RN contributed significantly to Australia’s maritime history and this is reflected in the displays, but other endeavours also deserve space and attention. These range from civilian-oriented early whaling days to beach exhibits and even waterfront union contributions. Special interactive areas are set aside for children. One salon includes a display of primitive small craft, chiefly from our islands to the north.

The museum also mounts visiting displays and, importantly, provides exhibitions, leadership and subsidies for museum-related research and displays within Australia and overseas. These included, in 1998-2009:

  • Work with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project searching for Cook’s Endeavour.
  • The Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, the travelling exhibitions Thalassa: Greek Australians and the Sea (in Australia) and the Wreck of the Julia Ann (in the USA).
  • Grants to regional maritime history projects around Australia totalling $30,000.
  • History of the Halvorsen boat builders of Neutral Bay.


Volunteers provide more than 25,000 hours of service time a year. They act as guides and assist with many museum projects. More than 450,000 people visited the museum and ANMM travelling exhibitions in 1998-99, contributing to a gross revenue of $3.44 million, of which only $765,000 is sponsorship money.

ANMM has grown from nothing in a very short time. “The museum is now in its eighth year of operation. Of the millions of people who have visited in person, 30 per cent have come from overseas. Clearly this national institution is functioning very well as a national ambassador,” said Chairman Kay Cottee.

ANMM might not have the large numbers of uniformed staff or the tens of thousands of polished ancient artefacts found in, say, the two-centuries old Spanish Naval Museum in Madrid. Nor does it have the large numbers of sailing ship models of the 150-years old USNI Museum at Annapolis or the big dramatic displays of the 70-year old Barcelona Maritime Museum.

It does, however, have a number of history-making craft, ranging from Australian jet-powered speedboats to their 18-foot mono-hull and catamaran sailboat contemporaries.

Unique attractions

Uniquely, ANMM has an ex-RAN destroyer and submarine and other floating craft open to inspection, with a free audio CD tour. Removed on decommissioning for security reasons, Vampire has her gunnery control console back on her bridge. Onslow looks ready to embark the rest of her torpedoes and sail on her next operational voyage. Her galley still holds well-used baking pans and condiment jars. In the main museum building, there’s even a Wessex helicopter dangling from the roof in the middle of the big RAN static display.

No aircraft carrier?

Observing the popularity of visiting American aircraft carriers, it may be regarded by many as an oversight that an RAN aircraft carrier was not retained and furnished as a museum exhibit. Melbourne was, of course, the first operational aircraft carrier in the world to mount all three of the “modern” design attributes for jet aircraft operations: the steam catapult, the angled deck and the mirror landing sight. The old Essex class carriers, USSs Intrepid in New York, Hornet in San Francisco, Yorktown in Charleston and Lexington in Corpus Christi; are just four of many examples of how popular and self-sustaining such exhibits can be, even in a stand-alone remote site like Hornet’s.

The museum is expanding. “We are immensely proud to have created a facility that defines modern museum practice, opening our behind-the-scenes collection management processes and storage areas to the public who will be welcome to visit. We’re proud, too, of the energy efficiencies designed into it, including passive temperature control and special insulation,” Director Dr Kevin Fewster said, of the Wharf 7 project. This new facility doubled the museum’s floor space and provides a permanent home for the Sydney Heritage Fleet, as well as space for staff, collections, research library, laboratories and workshops that could never be accommodated on the main site.

Largely out of immediate sight, but fundamental to any modern professional museum, are the lectures, research, conservation and publication sections. In January 2002, for instance, there were daily long-running video presentations of the history of the Batavia and her salvage. Since 2000, the museum has also sponsored:

  • A lecture about the great ocean liners and yet another about the Titanic.
  • A “Night in the Navy” aboard Vampire and Onslow.
  • A Batavia video, free to all museum visitors.
  • A Curator’s Tasman Map lecture and a social Australia Day Fireworks party.
  • Charles Darwin’s voyages and ideas that changed the world.
  • Special projects for children and Aboriginal Studies students.
  • Merana Eora Nora – the first people in Australia, from 50,000 years or more ago.
  • A Welcome Wall, listing the names and stories of people who settled in Australia.
  • The Vaughan Evans research library.
  • A quarterly journal, Signals, and
  • An internet Web site:

The Australian National Maritime Museum is a project as good as any maritime museum in the world, and considerably better than most. It is fitting that such a museum should be sited here, in the entertainment centre of a city with such a robust maritime history, however short that history might seem to be when compared with some international standards.

The museum is open daily, except Christmas Day, from 0930 to 1700 (1800 in January). There are a number of options for entry fees. Check the museum’s website for details. Consider family or member rates for large groups and frequent visits.

James Craig

The James Craig

Originally Clan McLeod, the James Craig was a Clipper-era iron-hulled sailing ship. She foundered as a coal hulk in Recherche Bay, Tasmania, where she lay for four decades until Sydney Heritage Fleet volunteers commenced a salvage program in 1972. In July 2000 she began her long sea trials program, gaining a Class 1C survey status that allows her to carry fare-paying passengers.

Invaluable heritage item

The refurbished James Craig is an object of pride for Australians and a signal to the rest of the world that Australians had both the good sense and good fortune to preserve such a valuable maritime heritage item for the education and enjoyment of all. The entire restoration program cost well over $A13 million (including the value of donated goods and equipment).

On the 12th July 2000, James Craig went to sea under her own sail power, for the first time in more than 75 years. She went out again the next day under leaden skies and a lacklustre breeze. On the weekend of 19 and 20 August she again sailed for harbour trials on both days. The weather was fine and sunny although, once again, the airs were light. On Saturday her crew broke out 12 sails, and on 20 August the ship carried a total of 14 on her three masts.

Nearly a year later, Saturday 7th July 2001, James Craig sailed with her first Sydney-based group of fare-paying visitors, 21 of whom were Naval Officers Club Members or their guests. It was her first commercial sortie under sail. One earlier commercial trip from Newcastle found insufficient wind to make way under sail. Most of the visitors, including retired flag rank officers, joined in willingly hoisting sails and trimming yards.

Naval Officers Club members and their guests join in both trimming the yards (left) and vigorously supervising the work.

With just the upper and lower topsails on each of the fore and main masts, and four triangular staysails, the ship made about four knots without engines in the open ocean outside Sydney Harbour. She was accompanied for a short distance by a topsail schooner. Helicopters clattered imperiously overhead, but they were ignored.

Club members Russ Vasey and Treasurer John Ellis contributed as crew. Russ is a mate. John fielded questions from the visitors about the barque. This important duty allowed the small crew to perform their work unhindered.

It is planned to take James Craig to sea, maybe every Saturday, with up to 100 passengers. Eventually it is planned to undertake three-day cruises with up to 25 paying passengers but, restricted by her survey conditions, she will stay in sheltered waters overnight. Geography and draft means that her passenger-carrying voyages will probably be limited to Newcastle in the north and Jervis Bay in the south.

Outfit data

The refurbished James Craig is fitted with a host of donated equipment, including two 400 HP MTU diesels that each drive three-bladed (fixed pitch), six-foot diameter propellers through ZF gearboxes. Her independent electrical supply is provided by two generators, one 85 kVA, the other 40 kVA. Many companies and individuals, too numerous to mention here, have generously donated cash, time and equipment. Hundreds of volunteers freely gave countless thousands of hours of backbreaking labour since the project first began way back in 1972. Without all this generous assistance James Craig would have remained a mouldering wreck, gradually disappearing from human consciousness and lost to future generations for all time. Instead she will sail again, on the open ocean, with pride, in the new millennium.

Her sail locker includes a full outfit of 21 sails tagged with names such as the four individual headsails, the fore course, upper and lower tops’ls and the t’gallant, the two main stays’ls, the main upper and lower tops’ls and three mizzen stays’ls. They have a grand total area of 1128 square metres. James Craig carries around five kilometres of standing rigging wire rope, and her running rigging totals more than 14 kilometres of synthetic rope.

Deckhouse, cabin deck and safety equipment fit-out

The deckhouse, in which 10 crewmen slept, is fitted out with bunks. The galley, forward of the crew’s quarters, is equipped with a genuine 19th century coal-burning stove. The cabin deck has internal bulkheads and the saloon looks absolutely fine with mahogany and birds-eye maple panelling. An authentic ship’s lantern overhangs the table. Within the saloon, on the aft side of the for’ard bulkhead is a genuine 19th century fireplace and gilt mirror. The quarterdeck furniture includes a teak skylight and companionway leading down to the saloon, the booby hatch (entry to the sail locker) and the steering box.


James Craig, under full sail, off Sydney.

In keeping with modern safety policies, the ship has two 50-man and one 25-man SOLAS liferafts. In addition she carries a 3.4 metre rescue boat powered by a 25 HP outboard and two 19th-century design clinker lifeboats specially built for her in a separate project. There is also a smaller and lighter captain’s gig built late last century.

The ship will also be used as an alongside entertainment venue in her home berth, where she can accommodate up to 275 guests, for school sleepovers and the like. If she proves sufficiently manoeuvrable to permit her use on the harbour, under her own power, she may be scheduled for harbour cruises but she is best suited to the open ocean. Her permanent home is alongside Wharf 7, at Pyrmont, adjacent to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

For those interested in more detailed information, or who wish to receive daily updates on progress, visit the James Craig website at The website is packed with information and contains virtually all there is to be known about the ship, her voyages, her travails and her cargo. Each day there is a new photograph and an update the “Daily Diary”. There is also a comprehensive photo gallery that contains every photograph that has ever been uploaded to the site. Visit the web site.

Annapolis museum

 The USN Academy Museum, Annapolis

The ship models housed in the “Class of 1951” Gallery in the United States Naval Academy Museum must rival any in the world for painstaking quality, detail and value. Above is a beautifully sectioned model of HMS
Grafton, a two-and-a-half gun-deck third-rate of 1679. (USN Academy photo)

The museum, situated within the USN Academy, Annapolis, and about 35 miles east of Washington DC on US Route 50 (Exit 24), attracts many of the million-odd visitors who call on the Academy each year. It can be hard to find, but remember it is just inside, to the right, if you enter through the Academy’s Maryland Avenue gate entrance. The museum is open to the public 0900 to 1700 Monday to Saturday and 1100 to 1700 on Sundays. There is no entry charge; it is handicapped accessible and limited free parking is nearby. The museum closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Its unprepossessing exterior belies the richness of the jewels inside. As well as its beautiful ancient and modern ship models, there are paintings, flags, rare books, charts, a library and a host of personal memorabilia that span the entire life of the USN. The collection all started in 1845, as the Lyceum, controlled by the Academy’s first chaplain. Instructional aids from the then Departments of Gunnery and Seamanship were gradually gathered and restored. In 1939 it moved into its present permanent home and in 1970 the Museum was formally dedicated to the memory of CDRE Edward Preble (1761-1807).

Rogers Collection

Since its earliest days, many private individuals and groups donated important and valuable assets. For instance, the Rogers Ship Models Collection comprises 108 sailing ship models of the 1650 to 1850 era. Colonel Henry Huddleston Rogers, an industrialist, started building the collection in 1917 and bequeathed it to the museum in 1935. It is one of the most comprehensive and valuable of its type in the world. These models might be found in pride of place on the ground floor of Preble Hall. The Academy’s Class of 1951 supports the museum so that the collection may be maintained and exhibited in the manner it deserves. A Director and three Curators head the museum staff. Additional professional and office staff, US Marine guards and volunteers back up these people. Federal funds and a number of endowments support Preble Hall. The well-stocked bookshop accepts nominations for membership of the USN Institute. (The highly popular and learned Proceedings journal goes with USNI membership.)


 This rare and valuable sailing ship model was carved from bone by a prisoner-of-war about 1800.

(USN Academy photo)

Sailing ship models

Nearly all of the priceless sailing ship models were constructed within a few years of the launch of the ship or type of ship they represent. For instance, a model of the 96-gun ship-of-the-line St George was completed within a year of the ship herself being launched in 1701.

All models are crafted with remarkable precision, and for very good reason. It had been longstanding tradition for ship builders to construct their complex craft more by eye than by blueprint. Because ship construction drawings, as we know them, did not exist, a precise model “as launched” was important if another ship of the same class was planned, if sailing or stability problems were encountered or the original ship was modified.

The ship model collection illustrates graphically how sailing warship design changed over the years. It traces the gradual diminishing of elaborate carving, probably as a cost-saving measure, at the bows and stern. It also shows the steady evolutions in bow design, gun placement and rigging, from “first rates” carrying 100 guns or more, through to “sixth rates” of maybe only 20 guns.

Some models are sectioned on one or both sides for easy viewing of the cramped ’tween deck conditions. It is amazing to see how hundreds of men lived and fought in these constricted and obviously unhealthy conditions. It may be no wonder that there were mutinies in ships such as these, with their press-ganged and oppressed crews. It may be more of a wonder that there were so few mutinies. Additionally, a number of the original cases carrying the models have their own intrinsic value and history, sometimes rivalling their contents.

Probably the largest collection in the world of models of sailing ships carved from bone and ivory are in another section of the museum. These make a very interesting, even macabre, contrast to the wooden models. Many were built during the Napoleonic conflicts by prisoners-of-war. They are not necessarily perfect scale models, but they are characteristic of the beautiful ships they represent. In many instances, bones recycled from prisoner’s meagre food rations provided the models’ basic building materials.

Contemporary craft

Yet other large display areas of the museum are devoted to more modern naval history, including relics of the Japanese surrender after WW II, and other aspects of naval life. Tracing the entire history of the USN, there are a number of excellent displays of modern ships, aircraft and their weapons. The Pacific War is well represented with displays of models and documents.
Those interested in sailing ship models should not miss any opportunity to inspect this unique collection. Afterwards, consider a walk around the grounds of the USN Naval Academy, or take a turn around the dock area and restaurants of Annapolis itself. Try the soft shell crab (in season).

Madrid Maritime Museum

The Madrid maritime museum

The Madrid Maritime Museum’s crest.

Very clearly, Museo Naval Madrid has been around for a very long time. Its carpeted and polished wood floors exude a comfortable gentleman’s club atmosphere. Its priceless collections of ancient small arms, models and charts are in demand by other major museums around the world as loan or exchange display items. Its large staff, together with a 15,000-book library, contributes to the highest quality scholarly and display standards. It is abundantly clear that history matters in Spain. Just one example may be found in the excellently restored and tenderly maintained huge 1790 Navio Real Borbon De Trois model (below).

Navio Real Borbon De Trois model


Mint condition

A Rear Admiral directs the museum and his uniformed and civilian teams maintain the entire collection in mint condition. All of the thousands of small arms and many other exhibits appear to be in perfect working order. All metal parts gleam. There was not one speck of rust or dust to be seen anywhere during one recent visit, despite the active reconstruction of one entire salon to take a special exhibition.

The museum is close to central Madrid, near the Retiro area, on the Paseo del Prado. It is about one kilometre north of the Queen Sofia Art Centre (which has Picasso’s Guernica) and about 500 metres north of the famous Prado Museum (which has one of the world’s best collections of Spanish, Flemish, Italian and Dutch renaissance art).

The Naval Museum is inside the Spanish Navy Headquarters, so visitors must sign in and pass through armed uniformed sentries and metal detectors before entering the museum proper. The access door is via a street on the building’s north side, the Juan de Mena, and a passport, or at least a photo-ID drivers licence is required for identification. About 15,000 visitors call annually. Opening hours are 1030 to 1330 Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays and some holidays). There is no entry fee. For those with an interest in Army museums, the Museo del Ejército is around the corner, another 200 metres away. It claims an even wider range of weapons and equipment, some 27,000 objects. More than half a dozen bus lines go past the building and the nearest underground station is the Banco de España.

Museum history

The Naval Museum has an interesting history. It dates back to 1792 when Marine Office Secretary Antonio Valdés y Bazán directed three naval officers to gather and acquire maps, nautical instruments, ship models and related items. His aim was to start a museum but some collected articles languished in the Hydrographic Depot for half a century or more until the inauguration of the first Naval Museum in 1843. After three or four moves around various government buildings, the museum found its present permanent home in 1932, in the Spanish Navy Headquarters.

As an example of the exhibits, ship models and other reminders of Christopher Columbus are as prominent in the museum’s Catholic Monarchs salon (1474-1517) as in the rest of Spain. In the Hapsburg Kings salon (1517-1700), among a host of other interesting relics, may be found the “sacred broadsword” granted by Pope Pius V to John of Austria after his seminal Lepanto victory. Other salons and patios feature priceless weapons and models arranged by period or theme.

Bone and ivory models

In Salon V (1759-1805), reminiscent of the excellent models in Preble Hall, at the USN Academy Museum, Annapolis, are four bone and ivory models, carved by French prisoners of war. In another area are excellent shipwright models, including one huge outstandingly detailed model, two metres or more tall, of what was to be the Navio Real Borbón De Trois. This model was constructed in Havana about 1790 but the ship herself was never launched. The British had the audacity to burn her on her Havana slips while she was still in the process of building.

Spanish aircraft carrier

There are also very modern ship and naval aircraft models in the museum. These include the Spanish aircraft carrier SNS Príncipe de Asturias, R11, in Room XV. This well-finished model of Spain’s ski-jump flagship is displayed complete with her Harrier jet fighter/attack aircraft and helicopters.

Principe de Asturias model

A detailed model of SNS Príncipe de Asturias (above), is proudly displayed in the Armada Museum. In real life, Spanish Navy Harriers operate from  their new 17,000 tonnes Spanish-built aircraft carrier (below).

Principe de Asturias

It is perhaps salutary that while Australia was disposing of this outstanding capability, through the sale of the carrier Melbourne, Spain was quietly building her own carrier in her own Ferrol Shipyard, on her North Coast, in deliberate time. She launched in 1982 and commissioned in 1988. She confers a potent punch and priceless flexibility to the Spanish navy.

Maps and charts

Valuable objects displayed in the museum include early maps and charts. In the Geographical Discoveries salon (15th to 18th centuries) is a striking Juan de la Cosa chart, dated 1500 at Peurto de Santa María. It depicts the oldest known representation of the New World. Also in the same room are very early nautical instruments, including a very rare 17th century Coronelli celestial globe. All appear to be in perfect polished working order. This same excellent condition was noted in the thousands of museum artefacts, ranging from rudimentary daggers to modern sectioned torpedoes and perfectly rigged sailing ship models.

Spain is full of beautiful cathedrals and museums. Considerable skill, time and energy are required to maintain the ancient buildings and the ancient treasures they contain. These same attributes are evident in the Madrid Naval Museum. Very few maritime museums anywhere in the world offer such a wealth of expertly maintained and presented exhibits. Do not miss this museum when you visit Madrid. (Coincidentally, it’s within convenient easy walking distance of three outstanding art museums should travelling companions prefer to explore arts instead of military themes at the same time.)

Try the website for more information.

Barcelona Maritime

Barcelona maritime museum

The Barcelona Maritime Museum must be one of the best-designed maritime museums in the world. It is presently housed in a Royal Shipyard dating back to the eighth century, together with 14th to 18th century Gothic warehouses and fortifications that grew up around the old shipyard.


  The richly decorated stem (left) and stern of the made-in-Barcelona full-size replica Galeria Real, of Lepanto fame. The original craft was the flagship of a fleet, under John of Austria, that changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean in 1571.

The largest single exhibit by far is the Galeria Real, a full size replica of the galley flagship of John of Austria and the victorious Holy League (Spain, Venice, Genoa, the Papal States and Malta) fleet that defeated the Turks at the famous Battle of Lepanto, in 1571. A heavily decorated “sacred broadsword”, awarded by Pope Pius V to John of Austria after his victory, may be seen in the Madrid Maritime Museum. The Holy League fleet had about 300 galleys together with six larger, slower and more heavily armed galleasses, while the Turkish fleet had about the same number of galleys. The Galeria Real carried a large cannon forward and four smaller weapons aft but it was the galleasses and their heavier guns that chiefly led to the defeat of the Turkish fleet.

Reportedly, the action led to the loss of 25,000 men and the liberation of 15,000 galley slaves. The Galeria Real was huge for her time, nearly 200 feet (61 metres) long and 20 feet (six metres) wide. Crewed by 400, she carried lateen-rig sails on two masts. Her 59 oars were sited in the “scaloccio” fashion, single oars manned by four to eight men (versus the pre-1530 “zenzile” method of grouped oars manned by a single rower). Her 236 oarsmen were slaves chained to their posts where they fed, slept (and defecated). It is said that a galley upwind could be smelled long before it could be seen.

The Battle of Lepanto was important because it ended the Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean and demonstrated the superiority of many heavy long range guns in solid ships over the more nimble galleys. A free audio tour of the vessel, in English, takes about 20 minutes or so. Both the original and the Galeria Real replica were built in the famous Barcelona shipyard.

Voyage to Havana

A number of free-access audio-visual displays educate and entertain throughout the museum. They range from interesting touch-screen single-user stand-alone units to 100-seat theatrette displays. There is also a fascinating and clever audio-guided “voyage to Havana”, with visitors standing on a full-sized simulated foredeck of a 19th century schooner. The passengers sight a Barcelona-class frigate crossing the schooner’s bows, and they later run into stormy weather. The entire foredeck pitches and rolls as realistic lightning flashes and thunder booms.

The collection, first established in 1929, was founded on acquisitions and donations by Catalan shipowners and merchants. In 1941 the directors re-established the museum on its present site, the restored Drassanes of Barcelona. The museum primarily addresses the important contributions of Catalan shipping merchants and shipyards to maritime history, especially during the Catalan maritime golden age 1750-1850.

This 80-cannon shipwright’s model, built in Havana, has an interesting history. It was used as a model between 1749 and 1798 for seven Spanish warships. It was taken to France in 1808, then to the USA and finally returned to Spain in 1985.

This highly-travelled 80-cannon frigate model has an interesting history.

There is a large number of interesting ship models, including a huge shipwright’s model of an 80-cannon warship, constructed in Havana probably in 1740. Brought to Spain, this craft served as an important model for at least seven Ferrol-built Spanish men-of-war. In 1808 the model was captured and taken to France by Napoleonic troops. During WW2 it found its way to the USA. In 1985 the New Bedford Whaling Museum ceded this beautiful and priceless relic to the Barcelona Maritime Museum.

The museum houses excellent exhibitions reminding visitors of the seminal Columbus and Magellan voyages of discovery. Big (2-3 metres) models of the flagships and other vessels serve as centrepieces for well laid-out displays, including huge wall maps based on some of the charts used at that time. Magellan, we are reminded, sailed from Seville in the south of Spain in 1519, with five ships and 250 men. After three years at sea and circumnavigating the world for the first time, only one ship, the Victoria, commanded by Juan Elcano, returned with 18 sailors barely alive. Its cargo of spices was worth more than twice the intrinsic cost of the voyage.

This huge 1:20 Santa Maria model forms the centrepiece of a comprehensive and informative Christopher Columbus display.

HMS Victory

Among the dozens of excellent sailing ship models is a fully rigged HMS Victory. This particular model has her starboard side sectioned to illustrate graphically some of the fine lines, ship construction techniques and cramped conditions of early 19th century men-of-war.

Finally, the museum administrators must be congratulated for their excellent display of Mediterranean fishing boat and sailing boat evolution. Most of the rough-hewn original fishing craft bear distinctive marks of their trade. There is also a number of beautiful ancient and modern sports sailing craft on display in the museum. The first Catalonian regatta was held in 1821 and their first yacht race was run in 1883. In pride of place in the sporting yacht saloon is the 1996 Barcelona Olympic Games gold medal winner of the sleek two-man Flying Dutchman class, won by Spain’s Luis Doreste and Domingo Manrique.

When planning your next visit to Barcelona, set aside at least half a day to visit this excellent maritime museum. The astute will allow more time, because there are dozens of nearby top-rated venues, including La Rambla, the Columbus Column, an aquarium and dozens of modern attractions (reminiscent of Sydney’s Darling Harbour) on the adjacent waterfront. All these are within easy walking distance from the Barcelona Maritime Museum.

HIJMS Mikasa

Mikasa, the Tsushima Straits victor

Don’t be misled by the “10 minutes walk, 8 if you run a bit” posted signs in Japan.

The Mikasa website says the old museum battleship might be only a 10 minute walk from the National Line Yokosuka-Chuo railway station, but it’s a good 45-minute slog around the dockyard and beachfront from a different station, the Japan Rail Yokosuka terminal, that looks just a little bit further away on a map. Mikasa admission fees are ¥500 for adults and the ship is open 0900 to 1730 (summer) or 1630 (winter). However, unless you have purchased one of those magical Japan Rail Passes before leaving Australia, which permits free travel throughout the Japan Rail network, the rail fare alone from Tokyo could set you back anywhere between ¥900 and ¥2000 for the 73-minute journey.

HIJMS Mikasa was VADM Togo’s victorious flagship in the 1905 Battle of Tsushima Straits.
HIJMS Mikasa was VADM Heihachiro Togo’s flagship during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. She played a decisive role in the virtual annihilation of the Russian Second Pacific Squadron on 27 May 1905 during the Battle of the Tsushima Straits (called the Battle of Japan Sea by many Japanese). Few naval battles had such a profound effect. By crushing the Russian Fleet, an essential prerequisite to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, this “Japanese Trafalgar” demonstrated with an iron fist that Asian nations need no longer kowtow to the whims of the major European powers. This action also probably contributed to dangerous unrest in Russia. Mutinies at Sevastopol, Vladivostok, Kronstadt and in the battleship Potemkin followed not long after the Tsushima news filtered back to Russia. A revolutionary uprising forced the Tsar to renounce his absolutist powers in the October Manifesto of 1905.
HIJMS Mikasa is preserved as a museum in Yokosuka. She is the only pre-Dreadnought armoured battleship in existence.
Mikasa is important, not only because of her deep, almost spiritual, significance to the Japanese people, but also because it is the last pre-Dreadnought battleship in the world. Characterised by big guns in twin turrets, heavy armour and a handy turn of speed, this revolutionary design evolved into the Dreadnought class that changed naval warfare forever. Although Mikasa carried tall masts, yards and even a prominent mizzen gaff, the battle was a spectacular demonstration of the absolute superiority of steam and armour. Naval experts all over the world studied the battle in detail. The results encouraged the Dreadnought designers to introduce even more big guns in rotating centreline turrets, steam turbines, fewer secondary armament “broadside” guns and better fire control.

Built at Barrow by Vickers in 1900, this enhanced Majestic class ship arrived in Japan in 1902. Displacing 15,140 tons, she was 435 feet (133 metres) long and had a beam of 76 feet (23.2 metres). Her Bellville boilers supplied steam to vertical triple expansion engines that delivered 15,000 hp to two propellers that gave her 18 knots. Her four 12-inch (30.5 cm) guns in two twin turrets threw 850 lb (386 kg shells). Secondary armament included 14 6-inch (15 cm) and 20 three-inch (8 cm) guns, all in single mounts, plus four 18-inch (45.7 cm) torpedo tubes. Her 860 crew were protected by nine-inch (23 cm) and three-inch (7 cm) Krups cemented armour (upgraded from the Harvey nickel steel of her British sister ships). She was one of six similar battleships and eight armoured cruisers ordered by the Japanese navy around 1893-4.

Through a series of raids, artillery shelling of Port Arthur, open sea battles, blockades and mining, the Japanese eliminated all seven battleships and a number of other warships of the Russian Far East Fleet within 12 months of their declaration of war with Russia in February 1904. This created considerable alarm in St Petersburg and as early as April 1904 planning commenced to bolster the Far East Fleet to discipline the upstart Japanese.


Russian VADM Zinovi Rozhdestvenski was appointed to command the best and most modern of the Russian Baltic Fleet ships, which was renamed the Second Pacific Squadron. These included four new Borodino class battleships: Borodino, Imperator Alexander III, Orel and Kniaz Suvorov. Rozhdestvenski was frequently importuned to include older, slower and less seaworthy vessels in his fleet, but he repeatedly declined because he considered that they were low freeboard “self-sinkers” and they would slow down his more capable ships. He reluctantly sailed from Kronstadt on 10 October 1904 in Kniaz Suvorov. He knew the task of delivering his ships safely to Port Arthur was formidable. Apart from the daunting hazards of navigation and weather on passage, he knew that his major ships were inferior in important respects to those of the battle-hardened Japanese fleet that would most likely oppose his passage.

The Russian flagship, the pre-Dreadnought armoured battleship Kniaz Suvorov.

The Russians also lacked training and discipline. For instance, in the very early hours of 22 October they came across a Hull fishing fleet in the North Sea. Wrongly assuming they were Japanese ships bent on torpedo attack, the Second Pacific Squadron responded aggressively, frequently shooting at each other. Despite firing hundreds of rounds, they sank only one trawler and lightly damaged one of their own cruisers.

Discipline was a constant worry. Rozhdestvenski had to put down at least one mutiny with some force before sailing from Madagascar on 16 March 1905. This was associated with the lack of support in the form of naval bases and dockyards during the long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope. He had virtually no practice ammunition and uncertain coal supplies limited his ability to exercise his ships. His warships’ decks were frequently stacked high with spare bags of coal. Rozhdestvenski also had to bring his slow auxiliaries with him, which made his job even more difficult. It was the possibly drunken captain of one of these who raised the false alarm of the “Japanese torpedo boat attack” off the Dogger Banks. The German Hamburg-Amerika Line did contract to deploy 60 colliers along the route to refuel the Russians, but this often required tedious and difficult coaling at sea.

Then there would be little relief when he arrived at Vladivostok. He knew that he faced a protracted war with a modern enemy fleet skilled at blockading and holding the initiative, yet all he had in support were the supplies he brought with him. The reciprocating steam engines of his warships required lots of spares and dockyard-level maintenance, especially after sustained full power operations. He knew the one-track Trans-Siberian railway was already overtaxed supplying the Russian Army in Manchuria.

To add to the Russian commander’s worries, his St Petersburg superiors despatched a second squadron of the very same slow old “self-sinkers” that he declined the year before. Under RADM Nicholi Nebogatov they took the shorter Suez Canal route and caught up with Rozhdestvenski at Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina.

The warships



Battleships and coastal defence ships Battleships and coastal defence ships
Mikasa (Flag) Knyaz Suvorov (Flag)
Asahi Orel
Shikishima Borodino
Fuji Emperor Alexander III
Heavy cruisers Sysoy Veliky
Nisshin Navarin
Kasuga Emperor Nikolas I (RADM Nebogatov)
Yakumo General Admiral Graf Apraxin
Azuma Admiral Ushakov
Tokiwa Admiral Seniavin
Idzumo Heavy cruisers
Awate Dimitri Donskoi
Vladimir Monomakh
Other Admiral Nakhimov
7 Light Cruisers
65 Destroyers Other
6 Light Cruisers
10 Destroyers

(Some authors list these and other ships in different categories, a task aggravated by transliteration problems.)

Shadowed from 0245

The Japanese auxiliary merchant cruiser Shinano Maru spotted and shadowed the Russians from 0245 on 27 May, south of Tsushima Island. Other scouts closed in, reported by radio and were so effective that in his official report, Togo says, “… though a heavy fog covered the sea, making it impossible to observe anything at a distance of over five miles, all the conditions of the enemy were as clear to us, who were 30 or 40 miles distant, as though they had been under our very eyes. Long before we came in sight of him we knew that his fighting force comprised the Second and Third Baltic Squadrons, that he had seven special service ships with him, that he was marshalled in two columns line ahead, that his strongest vessels were at the head of the right column, that his special service craft followed in the rear, that his speed was about 12 knots, and that he was still advancing to the north-east.”

Togo’s four battleships, two armoured cruisers and six cruisers sortied leisurely from their Pusan, Korea, base at 0615 and closed Rozhdestvenski’s four new and four older battleships, four coast defence ships, six cruisers and 26 other vessels in the narrow Tsushima Straits. “At 1.45 p.m. we sighted the enemy for the first time at a distance of several miles south on our port bow. As had been expected, his right column was headed by four battleships of the Borodino type, his left by the Oslyabya, the Sisoi Veliky, the Navarin, and the Nakhimov … at 1.55 p.m. I ran up this signal for all the ships in sight: ‘The fate of the Empire depends upon this event. Let every man do his utmost,'” Togo records.

The Japanese might have been inferior in both major warship numbers and big guns in the coming fight, but they more than made up for this with superior RN-based seamanship, gunnery and morale.

With a six-knot plus speed advantage Togo ran rings around the Russians, quickly knocking out their flagship Kniaz Suvorov and another battleship in a gunnery duel.

This phase saw the (in)famous “Togo turn”. The fleets were sailing on near opposite courses and Togo reversed his line by turning nearly 180 degrees in succession. All his ships passed one by one through a single geographical position and once its range had been found, Russian guns should have had little difficulty sinking Japanese ships as they passed through it. Beatty spectacularly failed with the same tactic at Jutland. Togo was luckier, or perhaps Russian gunnery was that much inferior.

The highly destructive phase 2 of the battle: 1425 to 1820, 27 May 1905.

Togo also reported that he left his 65-odd Japanese destroyers and smaller vessels sheltering inshore initially, because of the rough seas and murky weather, “…I caused the torpedo section which accompanied my own squadron to take refuge in Miura Bay before the day’s fighting commenced. Towards evening the wind lost some of its force, but the sea remained very high, and the state of affairs was very unfavorable for night operations by our torpedo craft. Nevertheless, our destroyer sections and torpedo sections, fearing to lose this unique occasion for combined action, all stood out before sunset, regardless of the state of the weather, and, each vying with the other to take the lead, approached the enemy … From nightfall the enemy made a desperate resistance by the aid of searchlights and the flashing of guns, but the onset overcame him, he lost his formation, and fell into confusion, his vessels scattering in all directions to avoid our onslaught.” About 30 Japanese destroyers fired 74 torpedoes in mass attacks. “The torpedo sections pursuing, a pell-mell contest ensued, in the course of which the battleship Sisoi Veliki and the armored cruisers Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh, three ships at least, were struck by torpedoes, put out of action, and rendered unmanageable,” reported Togo.

After two days of chases and skirmishes, frequently in poor visibility and rough seas, total Russian losses after two days included six battleships and four others sunk. The Japanese captured four ships, including two battleships and the destroyer Biedovy with an unconscious VADM Rozhdestvenski aboard. Others were forced into internment or ran aground trying to escape. The Russians lost about 4545 dead, another 6106 were taken prisoner and 1862 interned. The Japanese lost no major combatant ship. Mikasa was hit 32 times, but reported only eight dead. All told, Japanese losses were 117 men killed, 583 wounded and three torpedo boats sunk. The dead included Prince Hiroyashu Fushimi, a Divisional Officer in Mikasa’s after turret.

The Russian cruiser Aurora, rides in the Neva River, St Petersburg.

The Russian pre-Dreadnought armoured cruiser Aurora was there. She received 18 hits from eight-inch to three-inch shells, reporting 16 killed, including her captain, and 83 wounded. She escaped with two other cruisers to Manila, where they were interned. Aurora returned to Libau in 1906 and she was refitting in St Petersburg, 11 years later, when her crew fired the blank shot towards the Winter Palace that initiated the 25 October 1917 Bolshevik uprising. Aurora is also a museum ship, but she is still floating in the Neva River, whereas Mikasa is set in concrete.

Magazine fire

On 11 September 1905, Mikasa experienced a devastating magazine fire and explosion in Sasebo Harbour that led to the loss of 339 of her crew and blew a massive hole in her port quarter. Refloated and repaired by 1908, she continued serving until decommissioned in 1921.

The 1921 Washington Conference spared Mikasa from destruction, permitting her preservation as a memorial ship. After WW II, supported strongly by the Soviet Union, the occupation forces stripped Mikasa‘s armament and she fell into decay. As the Cold War developed, and at the strong personal behest of ADML Chester Nimitz USN, the Japanese Defence Agency assumed responsibility for Mikasa in 1959 and she was restored to her present pristine state by May 1961.

These three portraits, in pride of place in the Mikasa Museum’s below-decks display, reflect the Japanese admiration of three outstanding naval heroes: Togo, Nelson and John Paul Jones.

The Japanese credit their fleet’s performance at the Battle of Tsushima Straits as one of the most important in Asia’s history. It was that naval battle, they claim, that established Japan as a modern world power. Mikasa is an important and highly respected reminder of that historic battle.

Mikasa, set in concrete in Yokosuka, attracts a constant stream of visitors.

The Battle of Tsushima Straits: a Russian version

(Downloaded from This version offers another perspective to one of the world’s greatest naval battles. Note that Russian Julian calendar dates are used in this section. Julian 14 May was equivalent to the Gregorian 27 May used by Japan and most Western nations)

The fleets converged on the afternoon of 14 May 1905 (see Gregorian calendar note above). The first ship to open fire was VADM Rozhdestvenski’s flag battleship Knyaz Suvorov. Three minutes later, under the flag of VADM Togo, the battleship Mikasa fired back. Rozhdestvenski had reduced his force’s cruising speed to nine knots because he was saddled with slow-moving transports. Togo took full advantage; at 15 knots he overtook the Russians and concentrated his fire on the flagships. During the first forty minutes, the Japanese showered the battleships Knyaz Suvorov and Oslyabya with high-explosive shells, whereupon the Oslyabya sank with its commander, CAPT Vladimir Ber, and the majority of its crew.

VADM Rozhdestvenski was wounded, and his disabled flagship now became the Japanese target. Control of his squadron was disorganized. The commanders of the battleships Emperor Alexander III and Borodino, CAPTs Nikolay Bukhvostov and Pyotr Serebrenikov, tried in vain to screen the damaged flagship and bring the squadron back on course toward Vladivostok. The Alexander, Borodino and then the other battleships came under the lateral fire of the Japanese. However, by 1600 hours VADM Togo had lost sight of the Russian ships in the mist and smoke. The Borodino led the battleships to the battle line, where the cruisers were fighting to protect their transports. Under fire from the main Russian forces, the cruiser Kassagi was badly damaged and rendered unoperational.

Burning flagship

Having drawn away from the burning Knyaz Suvorov, the Borodino turned northward. Its senior officer, CMDR Dmitry Makarov, replaced the wounded Serebrenikov and took charge of the battleship. While travelling northwards, the squadron was overtaken by the battleships of VADM Togo. The Emperor Alexander III and Borodino were lost just before dusk in the ensuing battle, and almost simultaneously, the Knyaz Suvorov began sinking after being hit by Japanese torpedoes. CMDR Nikolay Kolomeitsov pulled his destroyer Buyny alongside the crippled battleship to save VADM Rozhdestvenski and part of his staff. The surviving officers of the Knyaz Suvorov, LEUTs Nikolay Bogdanov, Pyotr Vyrubov and Ensign Verner Kursel, refused to abandon ship and thus shared their vessel’s fate.

Late in the evening, aboard the Emperor Nicholas I, RADM Nebogatov took command of the squadron. VADM Togo ceased firing and ordered his destroyers to rush in and attack the Russian ships at close range. Thirty Japanese destroyers launched 74 Whitehead torpedoes. The battleship Sysoy Veliky along with the cruisers Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh, exploded. Three other ships tried to head for Tsushima but were so badly damaged that they were scuttled by their crews on the morning of 15 May. The Navarin was blown up by floating mines and sank as well.

VADM Togo (left) roundly defeated VADM Rozhdestvenski at Tsushima in 1905.
By nightfall the squadron was badly scattered, with many of the damaged ships left behind to reach Vladivostok on their own. RADM Enkwist with the cruisers Oleg, Aurora and Zhemchug eventually reached Manila. Under CMDR Vasily Ferzen, the fast cruiser Izumrud broke out of the encirclement of Japanese ships. Sailing along the coast, however, the ship was wrecked on reefs and scuttled by its crew. Only three very badly damaged ships, the cruiser-yacht Almaz and the destroyers Bravy and Grozny, reached Vladivostok without assistance. VADM Rozhdestvenski and his staff were transferred from the destroyer Buyny, which was experiencing engine trouble, to the Biedovy, which was then captured by the Japanese on 15 May.

Under the command of CAPT Iosif Matusevich, the crew of the destroyer Bezuprechny, engaged for over two hours in a battle with a Japanese cruiser and destroyer; the Russian ship was then lost with all aboard. For more than an hour and a half, under CAPT Sergey Shein, the damaged cruiser Svetlana fought several Japanese cruisers. Having fired all their shells, the sailors of the Svetlana opened the ship’s Kingston valves.

The Russian armed yacht Almaz (Diamond), seen here in 1903, survived the Battle of Tsushima Straits. Rated as a light cruiser, she was converted to a seaplane tender in 1915.
When the Japanese ordered the Admiral Ushakov, the single remaining Russian battleship of the squadron, to surrender, CAPT Vladimir Miklukha commanded his crew to answer the Japanese with the sound of Russian guns. Within an hour, the Admiral Ushakov sank under St Andrew’s ensign. In the battle with two Japanese destroyers, the destroyer Gromky, under CMDR Georgy Kern, sank with her colours flying. The last ship to break off the fight was a veteran of the Navy, the cruiser Dmitry Donskoi. On the evening of 15 May, her crew withstood a fierce battle against six Japanese cruisers. On the morning of 16 May the badly damaged ship was scuttled, following the orders of the senior officer, CMDR Konstantin Blokhin, who had replaced the mortally wounded CAPT Ivan Lebedev.

Following the Tsushima calamity, the Russian casualty tally was different from the Japanese, but they acknowledged 5,045 Russian sailors killed and 6,106 taken prisoner. They claim victory cost the Japanese three destroyers as well as 699 officers and sailors. After the battle of 14-15 May, the government of Nicholas II agreed to peace negotiations. According to the Portsmouth Treaty of 23 August 1905, Japan was given the Kwantung Peninsula along with Port Arthur and the southern part of Sakhalin Island up to the 50th parallel.

Other Comment

With some justification, many Japanese hail this remarkable victory as important to the world as Trafalgar, 100 years earlier. They correctly claim that this was the first time an Asian nation had confronted and thoroughly defeated a major European naval power, albeit with mainly British-built ships and Royal Navy training.
HIJMS Asahi, a Japanese battleship at Tsushima.

The Russian VADM Zinovi Petrovich Rozhdestvenski faced criticism because he failed to guard against the Japanese battle fleet and he failed to communicate any real plan of action should his fleet meet up with those ships. There was also his decision to choose the more direct Tsushima Straits route instead of a longer but perhaps less risky passage via either La Perouse or Tsugaru.

He is accused of having some unfounded fatalistic hope that he might sneak through Tsushima Straits in poor visibility in a two-column formation that only made sense if he expected opposition from small destroyers and torpedo boats. Why? One very good reason was that he had been told by his scouts some days before that they had sighted the main Japanese battle fleet off Formosa and that it was well behind him. Instead it was sheltering comfortably in a port within a few miles of his Tsushima Straits track.

Additionally, in his defence, it should be noted that his 18,000-mile voyage from the Baltic was the longest ever for a steam-driven fleet of that size. For this, he had to devise new procedures for both refuelling at sea and self-maintenance. He also knew that his primary destination, Port Arthur, had surrendered to the Japanese while he was at sea and he had to divert to the more northern port of Vladivostok. Having reached Vladivostok, it was not at all clear what he could do there. He had very limited supplies, little or no chance of re-supply and he knew that an efficient Japanese fleet blockaded the harbour.

Dogger Bank

One disgraceful incident during his epic voyage occurred in the North Sea when his ships wrongly identified a British fishing fleet as a Japanese torpedo boat formation. In the ensuing night action many Russian ships fired on each other. Fortunately, very few shells actually hit home and even fewer exploded. They sank only one British trawler. Unfortunately, this poor gunnery performance was not corrected during the long voyage.
Linked with political unrest at home in Russia, some of his crews were defiant. He had to put down at least one mutiny in Madagascar.

Rozhdestvenski, never optimistic about success, is reported to have become more sullen and withdrawn during the long voyage. He is also reported to have displayed fits of uncontrollable rage. His job was not aided by a demonstrated lack of support from his StPetersburg superiors and their second-guessing him. They despatched a second fleet of what Rozhdestvenski called “self sinkers”. These were low-freeboard slow coastal defence ships that would slow his battle group and perform poorly in the rough waters of the open Pacific Ocean. He had refused their participation initially but the Russian high command were determined to teach these Japanese a lesson for destroying their Pacific Fleet in 1904. They thought these old ships would help Rozhdestvenski. What they arrogantly failed to consider was that these old coastal defence ships were just cannon fodder for the more modern Japanese battleships and armed cruisers.

Finally, it should be noted that Rozhdestvenski himself was an early Tsushima casualty. He was knocked unconscious by an early shell and suffered a serious head wound that incapacitated him for the rest of the battle. The captain of the destroyer to which he was ultimately evacuated said that he surrendered primarily to seek medical aid for the unconscious admiral.

During the initial battle, the two opposing lines of battleships stabilised at about 6,200 yards and exchanged fire. The Russians had not improved their gunnery since the Dogger Bank debacle. On the other hand, the battle-hardened Japanese kept in constant practice, with sub-calibre shoots. They hit their targets more often and their “shimose” (melenite) filling reliably exploded on contact. The Russians employed armour-piercing rounds that rarely hit and even more rarely caused significant damage.

Togo sank four Russian battleships during the first day, at the cost of some comparatively minor damage to his fleet. Later that evening, massed attacks by torpedo boats and destroyers settled the fate of two more Russian battleships and two armoured cruisers. The next day, four Russian battleships surrendered and they scuttled another.

Most of the rest of the Russian fleet was picked off one by one. A handful of small ships, including three cruisers, escaped into internment. Only two destroyers and the fast armed yacht Almaz (classified as a second class cruiser) reached Vladivostock.

It is clear that Rozhdestvenski was poorly served by his superiors in that he was set a virtually impossible task with the wrong weapons. However, he failed to exercise his fleet in the essential arts of naval warfare during the long transit voyage and he failed to communicate his plans for action with a Japanese battle fleet. For this he must accept some blame.


Busch, Noel F. The Emperor’s Sword: Japan vs. Russia in the Battle of Tsushima. New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, 1969.
Hough, Richard A. The fleet that had to die. New York. Ballentine Paperbacks. 1957 republished 2001.
Pleshakov, Constantine. The Tsar’s last Armada: The epic voyage to the Battle of Tsushima. Basic Books: New York 2002.