The greatest Japanese naval leader of mod¬ ern times was born in Kajima-Machi in Kyushu, Japan. Raised amidst the turmoil cre¬ ated by American commodore Oliver H. Perry’s “opening up” of Japan to the West, Heihachiro Togo joined the Satsuma provin¬ cial navy in 1866.
Four years later, he entered the new imperial Japanese navy as a cadet and went to England for seven years of training in naval tactics (1871—1878). He greatly admired Admiral Horatio Nelson (see no. 66) and made it a point to travel to Cape Trafalgar to see the site of his hero’s greatest victory.
Togo supervised the building of the Yamoto, one of Japan’s first modern warships, and served as its first commander. In 1890, he created an international stir by firing upon and sinking a British steamer during the start of the Japanese-Chinese War in 1894. It was found that the British ship was carrying Chinese troops, and Togo was therefore not reprimanded for his action.
Togo headed the Advanced Naval College and was made commander of the new naval base at Sasebo in 1899. In 1900, he observed the Russian ships during the police actions of the Boxer Rebellion in China and concluded they were less efficient than was generally believed. When war between Russia and Japan became imminent in 1903, Togo was made commander-in-chief of the Imperial Navy, flying his flag aboard the ship Mikasa.
Following orders from his high command, Togo fired the first shots of the Russo- Japanese War, sending torpedo boats into the harbor of Port Arthur to attack the Russian ships there on February 6, 1904.
Foreshadowing Pearl Harbor, this sneak attack gave the initiative to the Japanese, who never relinquished it during the war. Togo’s naval blockade of Port Arthur and Vladivostok secured Japanese communications between their home islands and the war in Korea and Manchuria.
Togo’s greatest triumph came August 27 and 28, 1905, at the Battle of Tshushima Straits. A large Russian fleet had sailed from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan. The smaller but better-armed Japanese fleet completely outmaneuvered and defeated the Russians. Togo lost only 117 men and three torpedo boats, while killing 4,830 enemy soldiers and capturing the entire Russian fleet.
The hero of the war, Togo was made a count (1907), then a marquis (1934), and was given the special title of admiral of the fleet (1913). He did not serve in World War I, but the men who did had been his pupils. Made a permanent member of the Imperial General Staff, Togo remained one of the most revered leaders in Japan until his death in 1934. He was the first Japanese man not of the royal lineage to be honored with a national funeral.