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Russo-Japanese War: Admiral Togo Heihachiro

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Russo-Japanese War: Admiral Togo Heihachiro

Admiral Togo Heihachiro

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Early Life & Career of Togo Heihachiro:

The son of a samurai, Togo Heihachiro was born in Kagoshima, Japan on January 27, 1848. Raised in the city's Kachiyacho district, Togo had three brothers and was educated locally. After a relatively peaceful childhood, Togo first saw military service at age fifteen when he participated in the Anglo-Satsuma War. The result of the Namamugi Incident and the murder of Charles Lennox Richardson, the brief conflict saw ships of the British Royal Navy bombard Kagoshima in August 1863. In the wake of the attack, the daimyo (lord) of Satsuma established a navy in 1864.

With the creation of a fleet, Togo and two of his brothers quickly enlisted in the new navy. In January 1868, Togo was assigned to the side-wheeler Kasuga as a gunner and third-class officer. That same month, the Boshin War between supporters of the emperor and the forces of the shogunate commenced. Siding with the Imperial cause, the Satsuma navy quickly became engaged and Togo first saw action at the Battle of Awa on January 28. Remaining aboard Kasuga, Togo also took part in naval battles at Miyako and Hakodate. Following the Imperial triumph in the war, Togo was selected to study naval matters in Britain.

Togo Studies Abroad:

Departing for Britain in 1871 with several other young Japanese officers, Togo arrived in London where he received English language training and instruction in European customs and decorum. Detailed as a cadet to the training ship HMS Worcester at the Thames Naval College in 1872, Togo proved a gifted student who frequently engaged in fisticuffs when called "Johnny Chinaman" by his classmates. Graduating second in his class, he embarked as an ordinary seaman on the training ship HMS Hampshire in 1875, and circumnavigated the globe.

During the voyage, Togo fell ill and his eyesight began to fail. Subjecting himself to a variety of treatments, some painful, he impressed his shipmates with his endurance and lack of complaint. Returning to London, doctors were able to save his eyesight and he began a study of mathematics with Reverend A.S. Capel in Cambridge. After traveling to Portsmouth for further schooling he then entering the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. During the course of his studies he was able to watch firsthand the construction of several Japanese warships in British shipyards.

Conflicts at Home:

Away during the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, he missed the turmoil that it brought to his home region. Promoted to lieutenant on May 22, 1878, Togo returned home aboard the armored corvette Hiei (17) which had recently been completed in a British yard. Arriving in Japan, he was given command of Daini Teibo. Moving to Amagi, he closely watched Admiral Amédée Courbet's French fleet during the 1884-1885 Franco-Chinese War and went ashore to observe French ground forces on Formosa. After rising to the rank of captain, Togo again found himself on the front lines at the start of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894.

Commanding the cruiser Naniwa, Togo sank the British-owned, Chinese-chartered transport Kowshing at the Battle of Pungdo on July 25, 1894. While the sinking nearly caused a diplomatic incident with Britain, it was within the constraints of international law and showed Togo to be a master of understanding the difficult issues that could arise in the global arena. On September 17, he led Naniwa as part of the Japanese fleet at the Battle of the Yalu. The last ship in Admiral Tsuboi Kozo's line of battle, Naniwa distinguished itself and Togo was promoted to rear admiral at the war's end in 1895.

Togo in the Russo-Japanese War:

With the conflict's end, Togo's career began to slow and he moved through various appointments such as commandant of the Naval War College and commander of the Sasebo Naval College. In 1903, Navy Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyoe stunned the Imperial Navy by appointing Togo to the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, making him the nation's preeminent naval leader. This decision caught the attention of Emperor Meiji who questioned the minister's judgment. With the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Togo took the fleet to sea and defeated a Russian force off Port Arthur on February 8.

As Japanese ground forces laid siege to Port Arthur, Togo maintained a tight blockade offshore. With the city's fall in January 1905, Togo's fleet conducted routine operations while awaiting the arrival of the Russian Baltic Fleet which was steaming to the war zone. Led by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, the Russians encountered Togo's fleet near the Straits of Tsushima on May 27, 1905. In the resulting Battle of Tsushima, Togo utterly destroyed the Russian fleet and earned the nickname the "Nelson of the East" from the Western media.

Later Life of Togo Heihachiro:

With the war's conclusion in 1905, Togo was made a Member of the British Order of Merit by King Edward VII and acclaimed around the world. Departing his fleet command, he became Chief of the Naval General Staff and served on the Supreme War Council. In recognition of his achievements, Togo was elevated to hakushaku (count) in the Japanese peerage system. Given the honorific title of fleet admiral in 1913, he was appointed to oversee the education of Prince Hirohito the following year. Acting in this role for a decade, in 1926, Togo became the only non-royal to be given the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.

An ardent opponent of the 1930 London Naval Treaty, which saw Japanese naval power given a secondary role relative to the United States and Britain, Togo was further elevated to koshaku (marquis) by now-Emperor Hirohito on May 29, 1934. The following day Togo died at age 86. Internationally respected, Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and China all sent warships to take part in a Tokyo Bay naval parade in the late admiral's honor.

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