[From the New York Sun.] (Ed. note: transcribed version reprinted in The Army and Navy Register, 11 August 1906)

The news that Admiral Rojestvensky, on his trial by courts martial, has pleaded guilty of surrendering a warship in the battle of the sea of Japan, following as it does the trial of Admiral Nebogatoff for the surrender of a division of the fleet and the conviction and punishment of General Stoessel for the surrender of Port Arthur, raises two questions: First, whether these commanders have been justly condemned; and secondly, whether the Russians proved themselves formidable opponents in respect either of generalship or of soldiership during the far eastern war.

Let us look first at the cases of Rojestvensky and Nebogatoff. The latest student of the war from the naval point of view, Mr. F. T. Jane, though a fervent admirer of the Japanese, admits that while the Baltic Fleet was hastily organized and poorly officered, it kept station well enough to excite remark when it reached Singapore, and in several other matters was found to be superior to what had been expected. The credit for some approach to efficiency is given entirely to Admiral Rojestvensky, whose abilities, owing to his ultimate defeat in the Tsushima Straits, have not, in Mr. Jane's opinion, been properly recognized. How did it happen that Rojestvensky chose the inside route for Vladisvostok through the Sea of Japan and on the eve of Togo's attack made the mistake of forming his vessels in two battle lines? It appears that Rojestvensky's scouts had sighted what they took to be the main Japanese fleet off Formosa, and there is no doubt that the Baltic Fleet when it entered the Straits of Tsushima believed the bulk of the Japanese navy to be behind it and the way to Vladivostok to be barred only by a certain number of torpedo craft and cruisers, through which in the fog it had a fair chance of passing unobserved. Mr. Jane holds that Rojestvensky's formation in two battle lines was a sound enough one, in view of attacks from small craft only, while on the other hand it was so obviously and hopelessly bad against a battle fleet attack that it seems of itself conclusive evidence that Rojestvensky never expected to meet Togo when he did.

What the Russians assert is probably true, that the sudden discovery that they were faced with a fleet action overwhelmed them completely. Even so they were able during the following night to act sufficiently in unison to beat off two torpedo attacks, and the wonder is that they held together so long, not that they scattered so soon. Once scattered, their destruction was easy and inevitable. Yet it is to be noted that even at the end only the four ships composing the division comanded by Nebogatoff and the destroyer Bedovy, on which Rojestvensky's party had taken refuge, were sufficiently demoralized to surrender. Rojestvensky, though he pointed out that at the time he was dazed and out of his head, has acknowledged to the court martial that he took no measures to avert the surrender of the Bedovy, and Nebogatoff on his trial pleaded that if he had continued fighting he would only have caused a sacrifice of life. This was doubtless true, but Mr. Jane concurs with many naval officers in thinking the degradation inflicted on Nebogatoff by the Russian admiralty is justified by expediency not only because the Japanese in similar circumstances would never have surrendered, but also because the Russians in the same war and even the same battle had set a better example. The Oushakoff, for instance, refused to surrender, and sank still firing. In an earlier fight near the same spot the Rurik had chosen a similar fate. The deaths of those who went down in the Rurik and the Oushakoff were by no means fruitless, but on the contrary were almost as useful to the Russian navy of the future as if they had occurred in the hour of victory. Mr. Jane reminds us that if the principle of justified surrender should be admitted it would prove impracticable to draw the line. He looks, therefore, upon the merciless degradation of Nebogatoff and his captains by the Russian admiralty as perhaps its one strong action during the war. With that action is compared the course of the Chinese authorities, who executed every man left alive after the surrender of Wei-hai-Wei in the Chino-Japanese war, and the Carthaginian practice of crucifying a defeated leader. It will be remembered that the British navy received a similar warning against incapacity when Admiral Byng was put to death for his defeat off Minorca. It is certain that the orders of the Russian admiralty were very clear. They were that in the face of defeat a captain was to destroy his ship. This had been done by the captains of the Variag and Korietz and it had been done, though not very thoroughly, by the naval officers when general Stoessel surrendered Port Arthur, it was done by most of the captains of the ill-starred Baltic fleet, and ought to have been done by Nebogatoff and Rojestvensky, though in the latter's case there may have been extenuating circumstances.

As for Stoessel, who figured as a hero in and outside of Russia while as yet the facts were imperfectly known, it was established before the court martial when he came to be tried that, although the garrison in Port Arthur was exposed to a murderous plunging fire after the Japanese had gained possession of the surrounding heights, yet the fortress was still supplied with enough food and munitions of war to resist for months. Not only on this account was Stoessel justly sentenced, but in view of the grave consequences attributable to the surrender. A force comprising almost a hundred thousand Japanese veterans was thus set free to take part in the operations around Mukden against the main Russian army. Who will attempt to measure what this accession of strength may have meant to the Japanese when the fact is recalled that, even as it was, the Russians, though thrice beaten on the field, were never routed?

Our conclusion is that in the military operations of which Manchuria was the theater the Russians were not signally outgeneraled by the Japanese, otherwise their losses must have been much greater than were actually experienced. As for the supposed superiority of the Japanese in naval strategy, Mr. Jane, for his part, concedes that Rojestvensky's formation in Tsushima Straits, in view that he expected only a torpedo attack, was not a bad formation at all, and that it is hard to conceive that Togo, with Rojestvensky's general orders and with the special problems to be solved by the latter, would have done anything materially different up to the hour of battle. Nevertheless, we can not conceive of Togo as losing the ensuing fight, because every individual officer and every individual seaman would have died rather than forfeit victory. This brings us to the capital reason for the success of the Japanese. The Russians were not so much outgeneraled as they were outfought, and they were outfought because they were lukewarm and not wrought to desperation as they had been in the Crimea and in resistance to Napoleon's invasion; whereas every Japanese soldier and sailor believed, as was indeed the truth, that his country's fate was at stake and that his personal conduct might decide the issue.