Heihachiro Togo (1848-1934) was Japan's greatest admiral, the mentor of Emperor Hirohito, and one of the architects of Japan's emergence as a military power in the twentieth century. His bold naval strategy won the most decisive sea battle in history, the Battle of Tsushima.
Heihaciro Togo was born on January 27, 1848 in Kajima-Machi, a Japanese village on the island of Kyushu in Satsuma Province (later Kogoshima Prefecture). Although located in one of the outlying provinces, the area contained fertile agricultural land. Togo was the fourth son of a highly esteemed nobleman, a samurai. His father served the lord of his province, Shimazu Nariakira, as a comptroller of the revenue, master of the wardrobe, and district governor. His mother, Masuko, was a noblewoman who belonged to the same clan as her husband.
At birth, Togo's parents gave him the name Nakagoro Togo. In a religious and patriotic celebration held upon attaining the age of 13, samurai tradition called for young men to change their lifestyles. A sign of the change was the adoption of a new name. Nakagoro Togo chose the name Heihachiro, which means "peaceful son," as the name by which he would be known ever after.
Togo was educated early in life, as was the custom with any son of a samurai. He was trained as a warrior, which he was expected to be. Except for minor skirmishes and policing actions, however, it was believed that his skills as a samurai would be used more effectively as an administrator and leader. This was because Japan, at the time of Togo's birth, remained effectively cut off from the rest of the world, and did not consider itself as having a political or military role beyond its borders. Its sole contact with the rest of the world was through a monopolistic trade agreement with the Dutch that provided Dutch traders limited port facilities at Nagasaki.
That changed abruptly in 1853, when a four-ship American fleet under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Yedo Bay to present the request of President Millard Fillmore that Japan open its borders to U.S. friendship, trade, and shipping. The delegation from the United States arranged the Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, which effectively opened two ports to foreign trade and provisioning. Soon, Britain and Germany sought similar arrangements. Japanese leaders were faced with opening their feudal society. In response to the growing threat of foreign incursion into their closed lands, Japanese noblemen began to mobilize their samurai vassals and to consider modernizing their military.
Shimazu Nariakira, the lord of Satsuma Province, quickly grew interested in building ships. He was authorized in the early 1850s as the first Japanese lord to build vessels larger than the small coastal trading and fishing boats then commonly used in Japan. He built a small fleet known by the mid-1860s as the Satsuma Navy. For his idea to build larger and armed seagoing vessels, Nariakira was immortalized as the father of the modern Japanese navy.
Because of his father's official role within Satsuma Province, Togo joined the Satsuma Navy in 1866, when he was 17 years old. In 1871, he was chosen as one of a dozen Japanese naval cadets to be given nautical training in England. The Japanese cadets were denied training at the Royal Naval College and Togo was sent to the Thames Nautical Training College in London instead. He spent two years as a midshipman on a training vessel, the H.M.S. Worcester, then was assigned to the H.M.S. Hampshire, which circumnavigated the globe.
Before his training ended, the Japanese government ordered three warships from British yards, and Togo was assigned as an inspector during their construction. He returned to Japan in 1878, as a sub-lieutenant of the Japanese imperial navy, aboard one of the new ships, the Fuso. Within 18 months of his return, Togo had become a lieutenant commander. As a result of his training in England, he was assigned to serve as a training monitor for cadets at the newly established Tokyo Naval School and Naval College at Tsukiji.
Togo was put on extended sea duty from 1878 through 1894, remaining at the upper ranks of the imperial navy. During this time, he saw limited action in skirmishes with Korean and Chinese factions. Togo was provided command of his first ship, the Daini Teihu in mid-1883. He was assigned to work with British, American, and German fleets, and as an observer with French fleets, in China. Togo was nearly relieved of duty in the late 1880s because of severe attacks of rheumatism that left him paralyzed for several months. Togo reportedly studied international law and diplomacy at that time, and was later assigned command of a British-built warship, the Naniwa.
Togo and the Naniwa became famous together. The ship displaced 3,800 tons, made 18 knots, and was armed with two ten-inch guns, six six-inch guns, and six torpedo tubes. On August 25, 1894, as tensions grew between Japan and China, Togo ordered the sinking in the Yellow Sea of the S.S. Kowshing (variously spelled Kaosheng ), a British-flagged transport vessel that was transporting Chinese troops to Korea. The sinking caused a significant international incident between the Japanese and British governments but Togo was not reprimanded, and the court of international opinion narrowly sided with him. War between Japan and China was officially declared a week after the sinking.
During the brief war, Togo's Naniwa was one of four ships dispatched as the "Flying Squadron" under Admiral Kozo Tsuboi, which helped to route the Chinese fleet under Admiral Ting Ju-Ch'ang at the battle of the Yalu River (also known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea) September 17, 1894. The battle gave the Japanese navy mastery over the Yellow Sea, leaving the Russian Pacific fleet as its only real rival in the western Pacific.
Military historians cite Japan's year-long war with China as a significant milestone in the development of Japan's modern military prowess. The naval and military tactics Japan's navy and army used surprised strategists from other countries. Japan's success in the war, leading to China's suing for peace on April 1, 1895, shocked governments around the world. No one had expected Japan, which was considered small and backward compared to China, to win the war. The Treaty of Shimonoseki provided independence to Korea while ceding to Japan the Liaotung Peninsula, a part of Manchuria, and the protection over the Chinese port city of Wei-Hai-Wei. These terms disturbed Britain, France, and Russia so severely that Japan backed down from the agreement. Russia took steps to reinforce China's position against Japan after the war, leading to the Russo-Japanese War several years later.
In the interim, Togo was named head of the Advanced Naval College in May 1896. He reformed the school's curriculum and had a Russian treatise on naval strategy, written by Admiral Stepan Ossipovich Makarov, translated into Japanese. He was promoted to vice admiral during this period.
Three years later, in 1899, Togo was appointed commanding officer of the naval base at Sasebo, which was the heart of the navy's command center for its Yellow Sea fleet. With the rising of the Boxer Rebellion in China, Togo was promoted to admiral of the fleet, and recalled to active sea duty on May 20, 1900. During the Boxer Rebellion, Togo was posted to patrol China's coasts and, in doing so, had the opportunity to observe the American, British, French, German and Russian fleets that were performing similar duties.
He was relieved of his command as the Boxer Rebellion withered in 1902, and was raised to the Order of Merit, and presented with the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun in recognition of his service to the emperor. Togo then was posted to supervise construction and become the first commanding officer of the Japanese naval base at Maizuru, directly across the Sea of Japan from Vladivostok.
In October 1903, Togo was recalled from Maizuru and given command of the navy, which at that time was the largest force Japan had ever had. 213 million yen had been spent to build four new battleships and eight battle cruisers. Togo put his flag on the Mikasa, a British-built battleship that was one of the most advanced of its day. It displaced 15,300 tons, had a speed of 19 knots, and carried four 12-inch guns and fourteen 6-inch guns. Togo commanded four, new Mikasa-class battleships among the more than 100 warships in the combined fleet that he commanded. The fleet assembled at the naval base at Sasebo.
As political tensions grew between Japan and Russia, the Russian Pacific fleet was divided between stations at Vladivostok and Port Arthur, and comprised seven battleships and nine cruisers, along with ancillary destroyers and torpedo boats. The Pacific fleet was promised support from the Russian Baltic fleet, for which new ships were being built at the start of hostilities. Japanese military leaders drafted plans for the opening of hostilities long before diplomatic relations were severed. In what military historians see as the direct model on which the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was based, Japanese strategy in its war with Russia called for an immediate, nighttime attack on the Russian fleet stationed at Port Arthur to cripple or destroy that portion of the Russian fleet. Togo was to be the sword with which Japan's emperor slashed Russia's Pacific fleet.
The Japanese combined fleet sailed out of Sasebo the morning of February 6, 1904, heading west. Diplomatic relations with Russia were formally broken off that afternoon. On the night of February 8, 1904, Japanese torpedo boats and destroyers, under cover of the main body of the fleet, entered the harbor at Port Arthur, where the Russian squadron was anchored. The Japanese damaged the Russian cruiser Pallada, and the battleships Czarevich and Retvisan, but Togo's caution in not attacking Port Arthur at full force ultimately allowed most of the Russian ships to escape. By May, they had broken out and sailed for Vladivostok under the command of Admiral Makarov. Togo patrolled the Sea of Japan, finally sinking the Czarevich in the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10, 1904. The remnants of the Russian Pacific fleet were scattered in the Battle of Ulsan, on August 14th.
As Togo patrolled, the Russian Second Pacific Squadron, consisting of four identical, 13,500-ton battleships, two older battleships, seven cruisers, transport ships, ocean-going tugboats, and miscellaneous other ships, assembled in the Baltic seaport of Kronstadt under the command of Vice Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhdestevensky. Because of poor shipbuilding, poorer training for the crews, and numerous stops along the way for provisioning, the Russian Second Pacific Squadron took seven months to sail to the Sea of Japan.
On its way to Vladivostok at the end of May 1905, the Russian Second Pacific Squadron was met by Togo and the combined Japanese feet at the Straits of Tsushima. The 50-mile wide ocean between Japan and Korea is divided into two 25-mile wide channels by the island of Tsushima at the straits. Togo awaited Rozhdestevensky at the Korean port of Pusan while his torpedo boats patrolled the straits. Rozhdestevensky arrived at daybreak, May 27. Togo had four battleships, eight armored cruisers, four 20-knot cruisers, three light cruiser divisions, and five destroyer flotillas in his fleet. Rozhdestevensky's main battle force consisted of eight battleships and 25 other warships.
At the end of the fighting, the Japanese had sunk six of eight Russian battleships, captured the remaining two; and sank, captured or drove into port 25 other Russian ships, while the Japanese had lost only three torpedo boats. Rozhdestevensky was taken prisoner, and Togo later visited him in the hospital. The Russo-Japanese War ended September 5, 1905, with a treaty signed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The peace treaty signing was presided over by American President Theodore Roosevelt. Togo was given numerous medals by the Japanese government and internationally, and was appointed chief of the Imperial General Staff on December 20, 1905. He held that post until December 1909.
Togo represented the Japanese government at the coronation of King George V of England in 1911. On his return to Japan he was made a count, and was appointed president of the Office for the Crown Prince's Studies. As such, he organized and prescribed the course of study, oversaw a team of 17 instructors, and became a traveling companion and surrogate uncle to the future emperor, Hirohito.
Togo retired from official duties and public life when Hirohito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1926. He watched as Japanese society under the direction of his protege grew increasingly militaristic. On the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima, May 28, 1934, the emperor conferred on Togo the honorific title of marquis. A day later, Togo fell into a coma. He died in Tokyo on May 30, 1934. His wife, Tetsuko, to whom he was married for 53 years, died seven months later. Togo was survived by two sons, a daughter, and four grandchildren.
Blond, Georges, Admiral Togo. Macmillan Company, 1960.
Busch, Noel F., The Emperor's Sword: Japan vs. Russia in the Battle of Tsushima. Funk and Wagnalls, 1969.
Falk, Edwin K., Togo and the Rise of Japanese Sea Power. Longmans, Green and Company, 1936.