Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review - The Tsar's Last Armada

Constantine Pleshakov's book is subtitled "The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima" and is truly a book of the 18,000+ nautical mile journey of the main Russian fleet under Admiral Rozhestvensky from the Baltic to its fateful meeting with Admiral Togo and the Japanese fleet.

Pleshakov concentrates on the personalities of Rozhestvensky and his subordinates as well as the top members of the Russian government. He hints that if the leaders in St. Petersburg had allowed Rozhestvensky to do what he wished the outcome may have been different. 

Far from the classical story of ships who left Russia piled high with coal and sailing urgently around the world to plunge unprepared into a hopeless battle, Pleshakov tells of long delays and lost opportunities, of bungled intelligence, and of political weakness and indecision. He also seems to share Rozhestvensky's view that the reinforcements he was forced to wait for actually weakened the squadron instead of strengthening it and that the level of talent in the upper naval officers of the Tsar's navy was minimal with very few competent leaders of rank captain or above.

There is also a fair handling of the wide class distinctions and the resulting political unrest in Russia as a whole, in the navy in general, and the "last armada" particularly. Pleshakov discusses this discrepancy in each situation the fleet found itself in, from forming to its ultimate destruction and the aftermath for the survivors. In the end even Rozhestvensky comes off wanting.

I found the book interesting and found it debunked, as noted above, some long-held misconceptions. It pays scant attention to the battle itself; if you want a battle history you do need to go elsewhere. It is a good stand-alone historical story; one needs no previous knowledge of the Russo-Japanese War, Tsushima, or the period to get the full impact of the book. 

It is also inexpensive. Copies are available on Biblio for as little as $3.97 including shipping.