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Shirgenori Togo was born in Kuyshu, Japan, in 1882. A member of a rich Japanese family he joined the foreign service. While working in the Berlin embassy in 1920 he married a German woman.
In 1937 Togo was appointed ambassador in Nazi Germany. The following year he was transferred to become ambassador in the Soviet Union.
Hideki Tojo appointed Togo as his foreign minister in October 1941. Unhappy with Tojo's aggressive foreign policy he resigned on 1st September 1942.
After Tojo resigned, the new prime minister, Kantaro Suzuki, appointed Togo as foreign minister. He was one of only three ministers who favoured surrender at the Supreme Council meeting on 9th August 1945.
Shirgenori Togo, who was sentenced to 20 years for war crimes, died in prison on 23rd July 1950.
Shigenori Togo: First Korean member in Japan's Cabinet
Post by nobodyofnote » 11 Jan 2012, 09:27
First Korean member in Japan's Cabinet
Who was the highest-ranking Korean in the Japanese Empire? Some people may name Hong Sa-ik, lieutenant general of the Imperial Japanese Army or Lee Chi-ho, one of the few Korean members of the Imperial Diet.
There was one Korean who occupied an even higher position. This man once was a minister of foreign affairs and a member of the highest organ of state, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War.
He was born on Dec. 10, 1882 in the small village of Naeshirogawa in the Kagoshima Prefecture. His name was Pak Mu-dok. Three years later, the Japanese government implemented census reforms requiring all subjects of the empire to take official surnames. Mu-dok’s father took the new surname Togo and his son’s name became Shigenori, according to the Japanese pronunciation of the characters Mudok. This is how Shigenori Togo acquired his new name name.
In 1904, Togo entered Tokyo Imperial University where he studied German literature. His interest in Germany would define the course of his life.
In 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan. Togo, however, became a resident of Japan proper and thus escaped discrimination, along with every Korean who acquired Japanese citizenship before the annexation.
In 1912, he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and after Japan, along with the other Allies, emerged victorious from World War I, participated in negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles. While in Germany, he met his future wife, Edith de Lalande, the widow of famous architect Georg de Lalande. It is ironic for de Lalande to have designed the first sketch for the residence of the governor general of Korea.
Despite his love for Germany, he had no love for national socialism. When Hitler swept to power in 1933, he opposed an alliance with the new government in Berlin. He was in a sane but small minority.
In 1937, when Japan invaded China, Emperor Hirohito created the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War which consisted of the top-level ministers and can be seen as a war Cabinet. In October 1941, Togo became minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the council. When in early December, the council’s members discussed the attack on Pearl Harbor, Togo was the only one who did not approve the plan. He thought that it would be impossible for Japan to win a war with the United States.
Nevertheless, his voice ― along with the voices of relatively sane Japanese politicians ― were thoroughly dismissed by the Prime Minister Tojo Hideki with the fateful words that said the war was Japan’s destiny.
As the war progressed, Togo earned himself a rival. Korechika Anami, an influential general in the Imperial Army demanded the continuance of hostilities even after the United States dropped atomic bombs first on Hiroshima and then even after Nagasaki. The emperor did not share his optimistic appraisal of the situation. The declaration of surrender was scheduled for Aug. 15, 1945. The devastated Anami met with Togo the night before and on Aug. 15, he committed suicide.
Togo lived and was tried by the Tokyo Tribunal of Allied Powers. Despite his efforts to stop the war, Shigenori Togo was still a part of the Japanese Empire’s war machine. He was found guilty on charges of waging an aggressive war against the Allies ― including, ironically, the United States ― but innocent of any part in the inhumane treatment of prisoners’ of war. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and, died in 1950.
From Slavery to Dictatorship: A Brief History of Togo’s Struggle
The protests for the removal of Faure Gnassingbé in Togo rage on in Togo. After a dictatorship that has lasted fifty years the people of Togo are demanding a change. One of the conditions of this change is the immediate removal of Faure Gnassingbé. Faure’s term is set to end in 2020 and when asked why the people of Togo do not let Faure finish complete his term before leaving office, Togolese activist Farida Nabourema explained:
To really understand the historical scope of the struggle being waged right now in Togo I think it is necessary to provide some historical context for those who are unfamiliar with Togo’s history. Like most African nations, Togo’s history within the last few centuries has been a history of constant struggle for liberation against European colonizers and their African allies. Togo was one of the many African nations that were impacted by the slave trade. In fact, Togo was located in the region of West Africa that was known as the “Slave Coast” because of how many Africans were taken from that region.
Little Popo, which is today known as Aného, was one of the largest centers of slave trading activity in the Slave Coast. The people of Little Popo were frequently at war with many neighboring kingdoms, including Dahomey. Prisoners of these wars were captured and sold into slavery. The Portuguese were the first set of Europeans to trade for slaves in Little Popo, but slave trading activity in Little Popo would increase significantly when the Dutch and the British became involved. The French would also get involved in the slave trade in Little Popo. The French Compagnie du Sénégal launched a series of voyages to Little Popo in an attempt to acquire slaves. By 1772 the Danes were also involved in the slave trade in Little Popo.
It may be tempting to think of the ones that escaped being captured and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean as being fortunate, but the ones that escaped being captured were often left the wonder about the fate of the friends and family that they lost in the slave trade. Robert Campbell, who was born in Jamaica, recorded an encounter he had with a chief in Nigeria named Ogubonna:
Not only did the slave trade separate communities, but it had a very destabilizing impact on African societies. The European slave traders often instigated conflicts between Africans or exacerbated existing rivalries because more warfare meant more prisoners of war that could be sold to the European slave traders. Alexander Falconbridge worked as a doctor on the slave ships and he observed that during periods in which there was a decline in slave trading activities there was also a significant decline in African warfare as well. The slave trade not only increased the amount of warfare in Africa, but the introduction of European firearms ensured that these wars were bloodier and more destructive than warfare traditionally was in Africa. Little Popo was one of the many African kingdoms where firearms and the demands of the slave trade made warfare more frequent and destructive than it had been in the past. The slave trade also caused depopulation in many parts of Africa. In the Kongo Kingdom, for instance, King Afonso complained that so many of his people were being stolen by slave traders that his kingdom was being depopulated. Among those that were stolen were some of Afonso’s own relatives, including one of his grandchildren.
The abolition of the slave trade was followed by the Scramble for Africa, in which most of Africa was conquered and colonized by the invading European powers. Liberia, which was a nation that was established by Africans from the Americas, was not formally colonized by any of the Western powers, although since its formation Liberia was effectively an American colony in West Africa. Ethiopia also escaped being colonized after they defeated the Italians. Togo was colonized by the Germans.
German rule in Togo was brutal. The Togolese people were often forced to labor for little or not pay. Floggings were one of the means that was used to coerce the population into forced labor. After their defeat in World War I, the Germans were forced to give up their African colonies to the victories Allies. German Togoland was partitioned between the British and the French. British Togoland would go on to become part of Ghana and French Togoland became Togo. French rule was also harsh and exploitative. One incident that illustrates the oppressive nature of French rule occurred in 1932 when the French administration attempted to impose new taxes on the Lomé market women. This sparked widespread protesting from the market women. The protest achieved its aims, but it also demonstrated that unless African people, particularly African women, were protesting in massive numbers then their concerns were of little regard to the colonial governments that ruled over them.
Togo became independent from France in 1960 and Sylvanus Olympio became Togo’s first president. Olympio was the descendant of Afro-Brazilians who returned to Togo. Aside from Togo, Brazilian returnees also settled in Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin. Olympio was assassinated in 1963. Prior to his assassination Olympio was planning to remove Togo from the CFA Franc currency and issue Togo its own currency. Shortly after Togo began taking the steps to print its own currency Olympio was assassinated in a French supported coup. By 1967 Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who was one of the leaders in the plot to kill Olympio, installed himself as the dictator of Togo. He established a dictatorship that continues on to this day.
Over the last 400 years the people of Togo have suffered the ravages of the slave trade, colonialism, and a brutal dictatorship. Centuries of such brutalities have not broken the spirits of the Togolese people, however, and they continue to fight against the forces that oppress their country.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.
Tōgō’s first overseas posting was to the Japanese consulate at Mukden, in Manchuria in 1913. In 1916, he was assigned to the Japanese embassy in Bern, Switzerland. In 1919, Tōgō was sent on a diplomatic mission to Weimar Germany, as diplomatic relations between the two countries were reestablished following the Japanese ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. He returned to Japan in 1921 and was assigned to the Bureau of North American affairs. In 1922, despite the strenuous objections of Tōgō’s family, he married a German woman, the widow of noted architect George de Lalande who has designed numerous buildings in Japan and its empire, including the Japanese General Government Building in Seoul. The wedding was held in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. In 1926, Tōgō was appointed as secretary to the Japanese embassy in United States, and moved to Washington DC. In returned to Japan in 1929, and after a brief stay in Manchuria, was sent back to Germany. He was the head of the Japanese delegation to the largely unsuccessful World Disarmament Conference held in Geneva in 1932. Tōgō returned to Japan in 1933 to assume the post of director of the Bureau of North American affairs, but was in a severe automobile accident which left him hospitalized for over a month. In 1937, Tōgō was appointed as Japanese ambassador to Germany, serving in Berlin for a year. After Tōgō was replaced as ambassador to Germany by Hiroshi Ōshima, he was reassigned to Moscow as the ambassador to the Soviet Union 1938-1940. During this time, he negotiated a peace settlement following the Battles of Khalkhin Gol between Japan and the Soviet Union, and successfully concluded the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941. He was then recalled to Japan by then Foreign Minister Yōsuke Matsuoka for reassignment.
Tōgō was adamantly against war with the United States and the other western powers, which he felt was generally unwinnable, and together with Mamoru Shigemitsu, made unsuccessful last-ditch efforts to arrange for direct face-to-face negotiations between Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe and US President Franklin Roosevelt in an attempt to stave off the conflict. In October 1941, Tōgō became Foreign Minister in the Tōjō administration. Once war was decided, it was Tōgō’s signature on the declaration of war, as he disliked pressing the responsibility of the failure of diplomacy on others. With the start of World War II, Tōgō worked quickly to conclude an alliance between Japan and the Kingdom of Thailand in late 1941.
As part of a more reconciliatory policy towards the western powers, he announced on January 21, 1942 that the Japanese government shall uphold the Geneva Convention even though it did not sign it. Ώ] On September 1, 1942, resigned his post as Foreign Minister due to his opposition to establish a special ministry for occupied territories within the Japanese government (the new ministry, the Ministry of Greater East Asia was eventually established in November of that same year). Although appointed to the Upper House of the Diet of Japan, throughout most of the war, he lived in retirement.
Upon the formation of the government of Admiral Kantarō Suzuki in April 1945, Tōgō was asked to return to his former position as Minister of Foreign Affairs. In that position, he was one of the chief proponents for acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration which, he felt, contained the best conditions for peace Japan could hope to be offered. Up until the last, Tōgō hoped for favorable terms from the Soviet Union. At Tōgō's suggestion, no official response was made to the Declaration at first, though a censored version was released to the Japanese public, while Tōgō waited to hear from Moscow. However, Allied leaders interpreted this silence as a rejection of the Declaration, and so bombing was allowed to continue. Tōgō was one of the Cabinet Ministers who advocated Japanese surrender in the summer of 1945. Several days after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government agreed to unconditional surrender.
Following the end of World War II, Tōgō retired to his summer home in Karuizawa, Nagano. However, he was soon arrested by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers on war crime charges, along with all former members of the Japanese government, and was held at Sugamo Prison. During the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Haruhiko Nishi agreed to act as his defense attorney. On 4 November 1948, Tōgō was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Togo, who suffered from Atherosclerosis, died of Cholecystitis while in prison. A volume of his memoirs was published posthumously under the title "The Cause of Japan", which was edited by his former defense counsel Ben Bruce Blakeney.
Shigenori Togo in Worldwar [ edit | edit source ]
Shigenori Togo was Foreign Minister of Japan during first the aborted World War II and then during the war against the Race's Conquest Fleet. Ώ]
Togo represented Japan at Big Five strategy conferences having been the only country in that alliance which had fought neither Germany nor the Soviet Union in World War II, he was best qualified to mediate the frequent bickering between Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov at those meetings. ΐ] Unlike Molotov, Ribbentrop, and American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Togo refused to visit Fleetlord Atvar aboard the 127th Emperor Hetto. After Ribbentrop described his own meeting with Atvar, Togo privately reproached him in German, saying "There is no excuse for treating with the enemy." (Togo, who had learned German from his wife, believed he was making a private aside to Ribbentrop, as, since Ribbentrop was fluent in English, German translators were not employed at Big Five meetings. However, Molotov's English translator happened to speak German, so Molotov caught the reproof, which applied to him as well as to Ribbentrop.) Α] Β]
It was Togo who first alerted the rest of the Big Five that the Race's Conquest Fleet was simply a precursor, and that a Colonization Fleet would be arriving in the next 20 years. Γ] All parties quickly agreed that, even if the Conquest Fleet were defeated, the Big Five must remain united pending the arrival of the Colonization Fleet. Δ]
Togo represented his nation at the Peace of Cairo in 1944, although, as Japan had not developed an explosive-metal bomb and secured diplomatic ties with the Race, he was there informally. Ε] He secured a recognition of Japanese sovereignty from the Race, though he could not save Japan's mainland empire including Korea and China, which the Race had overrun. Ζ] The possibility that the Race might retain territory between the Soviet Union and Germany was Togo's initially, although it played well into the USSR's hands. Η]
Togo Ignites the Rising Sun: How The Japanese Admiral Turned Defeat into Victory
On the evening of February 8, 1904, life in the Russian military encampment at Port Arthur was good. The commander of the Russian Far Eastern Fleet, Vice Adm. Oskar Victorovich Stark, was hosting a reception for the senior administrators of Czar Nicholas II’s far-flung Asian dominions. The dignitaries included Stark’s superior, Adm. Evgeny Aleksiev, and Aleksiev’s chief of staff, Vice Adm. Vilgelm Vitgeft. Champagne flowed freely. Although tensions between Russia and Japan were high, Port Arthur seemed secure, protected as it was by no fewer than seven battleships outside the harbor. But even as toasts were exchanged, a Japanese fleet led by British-trained Adm. Heihachiro Togo was about to launch the most successful surprise attack by any modern navy up to that date.
Standing aboard his flagship, the Mikasa, Togo’s slight stature belied his strategic prowess. He stood barely five-foot three-inches tall and weighed about 130 pounds. He had health problems stemming from what was diagnosed as severe rheumatism, which in the 1880s had almost obliged him to retire. His one indulgence was alcohol he would later observe that “No teetotaler can be a really capable man.”
And he did not hesitate to crash this Russian cocktail party, launching torpedoes and later, artillery shells, to devastating effect. Indeed, his success this night, and a still greater victory over the Russian High Seas Fleet 15 months later, would mark the emergence of Japan as a world power and establish Togo as the “Japanese Nelson”—a comparison to legendary British Vice Adm. Horatio Nelson, who led England to victory during the Napoleonic Wars. Politically, however, this first modern-era defeat of a European power by an Asian nation would mark the emergence of a catastrophic period of Japanese militarism, one that would come to a close only with Japan’s surrender in 1945—and only after the United States annihilated two of Japan’s major cities with atomic bombs.
Heihachiro Togo, who was 56 at the time of the attack on Port Arthur, was born in 1848 on the island of Kyushu. His mother was a noblewoman and his father a samurai and a senior administrator who would serve for a time as a district governor in Satsuma province. Togo’s parents named him Nakagoro at birth, but at age 13, in accordance with samurai tradition, Togo chose the name Heihachiro—“peaceful son”—by which he would be known the rest of his life.
Although Togo’s father was not a military man, the military services were held in such high esteem that the future admiral and his two brothers all chose to serve in the provincial navy. As a young man, Togo served as a gunnery officer on the warship Kasuga in an action off Awaji Island during the 1868 uprising that overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate. The following year, he was absorbed into the new Imperial Navy at a rank equivalent to midshipman, and in 1871 he was one of 12 naval cadets who were sent to Britain for training.
Though not from a military family, Togo, here as a young circa 1877 during his training in England, believed in service to his country and chose a military career, a highly regarded choice in Japan.
Togo trained at the Thames Nautical Training College, circumnavigated the globe as an ordinary seaman aboard the training ship Hampshire, studied mathematics at Cambridge, and closely monitored the construction of one of three armored cruisers destined for the Japanese navy. At a shipyard on the Thames, a companion recalled, he “persisted in asking questions with a tireless politeness which soon got the better of the rather surly temper of the shipbuilding workers.” In all, Togo would spend more than four years away from his homeland.
The years in England left their mark. For Togo and probably his peers, the Royal Navy became the standard by which all naval matters were judged. Equally important, his training in England had kept Togo away from his homeland in a dangerous and divisive period. His two brothers chose the wrong side in a feudal uprising and were killed. But young Heihachiro returned to Japan in 1878, alive and newly promoted to lieutenant.
The gradual disintegration of the Chinese empire in the latter half of the 19th century held implications for all of northeast Asia. Power abhors a vacuum, and while Russia sought to expand its influence in Manchuria, Japan sought to make Korea—long a vassal of China—a Japanese dependency and economic satellite.
When a rebellion broke out in southern Korea in 1894, the court at Seoul asked China for help, and Peking sent a few troops. Japan, meanwhile, sent some 10,000 soldiers, who seized the king and dared China to respond. War broke out when Togo, commanding the cruiser Naniwa, challenged a British-flag transport, Kaosheng, that was ferrying Chinese troops to Korea. When the ship’s British officers refused to follow the Naniwa to a Japanese port, Togo opened fire on the Kaosheng and sank it. He rescued the ship’s European officers but fired on Chinese soldiers in boats and in the water. The code of Bushido—“the way of the warrior”—made no provision for the rescue of enemy common soldiers.
The resulting Sino-Japanese War ended in a quick victory for the Japanese and first brought Togo to the attention of the Japanese populace. He also won praise from his superiors for his performance with the Naniwa in Adm. Yuko Ito’s crushing defeat of a Chinese fleet near the Yalu River on September 17, 1894.
As commander of the Naniwa, Togo embodied the characteristics of an emerging military class based on the concept of Bushido. Disciples of Bushido held that the warrior should enjoy the highest status in society. In return, he was expected to be sincere, manly, stoic, and totally devoted to his feudal lord and his comrades. Family and loved ones were subordinated to honor and trust among fellow samurai. As a disciple of Bushido, Togo was proud but never boastful.
Elation in Japan over the easy defeat of China soon gave way to resentment. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed on April 17, 1895, Japan initially gained Formosa, the Pescadores Islands, and the Liaotung Peninsula, including the strategic Port Arthur. Japanese control of that city displeased the Russians, who had long sought a warm-water port on the Pacific. Russia intervened, declaring that the fruits of Japan’s victory “constituted a perpetual menace to the peace of the Far East.” Japan, not yet ready for war with a European power, was forced to give up Port Arthur.
Responding to that humiliation, however, Japan began a fateful military buildup. The nucleus of a new battle fleet was to be four battleships under construction in Britain. The vessels were to be compatible in speed and armament with Japan’s two existing battleships, and to embody the latest in naval technology. Although the new navy was dependent on British technology, the Japanese added some wrinkles of their own. Because they expected their fleet to operate close to home, the Japanese were able to substitute extra armor for bunkers that other navies devoted to coal. Japanese munitions incorporated an explosive discovered by the French. It generated more heat than traditional explosives, and would prove highly effective when employed together with armor-piercing shells.
At the Naval Staff College at Sasebo, Togo and his comrades studied naval strategy, including the theories of American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. They combined Mahan’s emphasis on fighting a decisive battle with the aggressive spirit of Japan’s own Bushido tradition. Central to Japanese doctrine were two assumptions: that a Japanese fleet would be faster and more maneuverable than that of its enemy, and that Japan would strike first.
In late May 1900, the violent Boxer Rebellion in China threatened the diplomatic community in Peking and led foreigners to take refuge in the international quarter. In June, the Japanese government ordered Togo to join the fleet in China that was supporting the international ground force marching to the relief of Peking. Togo studied the ships of other nations, especially Russian vessels, and took close note of the Russian sailors’ lax discipline and poor training.
Japan and Russia appeared to be on a collision course, for construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, begun in 1891 and nearing completion, suggested to the Japanese that Czar Nicholas was attempting to bring Korea into Russia’s sphere of influence. In 1902, Japan and Britain signed a treaty that pledged each country to neutrality if the other were to go to war with a third party. The effect of the treaty was to give Japan a free hand in dealing with the Russians.
The prospect of war with Japan did not greatly concern Czar Nicholas and his court. It was inconceivable to them that the Russians might be defeated by the Japanese, whom Admiral Aleksiev, the czar’s supreme commander in Asia, was said to regard as “insignificant vermin who must be destroyed.” Beset with unrest at home, the czar’s reactionary ministers thought “a little victorious war” against Japan might serve to unite their people.
The Russians greatly underestimated their enemy. By 1904 the Japanese possessed 12 capital ships, none more than five years old. These constituted a fleet quite capable of taking on the Russian Far East Squadron based at Port Arthur, as long as it did so before the Russians sent reinforcements from the Baltic.
Yet Japan did not initially seek war. In an attempt to postpone a conflict, the Japanese offered Russia a free hand in Manchuria in return for a disclaimer of any Russian interest in Korea. In view of Russia’s unpreparedness for war, St. Petersburg would have done well to negotiate with Tokyo. Instead, it responded to the Japanese proposal with delay, followed by rejection.
Now determined on war, the Japanese intended to invade Manchuria by landing an army in Korea and driving north across the Yalu River. Additional troops would be taken to the Liaotung Peninsula to move on Port Arthur by land, but supplying and reinforcing these troops required that Japan gain control of the sea.
As war loomed, Togo was promoted to vice admiral and placed in command of the Combined Fleet, a post subordinate only to the chief of the navy staff. He was a popular choice, for the admiral was by then widely known for his bravery, judgment, and professionalism. On the evening of February 5, 1904, Togo called his senior commanders to meet on his flagship at Sasebo. There he told them that they would move immediately to attack the Russian fleet outside Port Arthur. Togo’s torpedo boats, employing British Whitehead torpedoes, would spearhead the attack.
As Togo’s commanders returned to their ships, a sense of excitement spread through the fleet. Anchor chains clanked and signal flags cracked in the cold air. Cries of “Banzai!” broke out as the emperor’s sailors realized that they were off to war.
Togo had prepared meticulously. His crews were well trained and motivated, and spies had informed him of the location of every enemy ship. Just before midnight on February 8, 1904, a volley of torpedoes from 10 Japanese torpedo boats badly damaged three Russian warships. Two picket ships had spotted the incoming enemy flotilla but, lacking wireless telegraphy, had been unable to warn Port Arthur. The Russians were taken completely unawares.
After the destroyers had withdrawn, Togo prepared to renew the attack in daylight. His flagship, the 15,400-ton Mikasa, was one of six modern battleships purchased from Britain in 1893 and 1894, and the 12-inch guns of the Japanese fleet were as powerful as those of any warship afloat.
As dawn broke on February 9, residents of Port Arthur were astonished to see three Russian warships beached in shallow water outside the harbor entrance. The cruiser Pallada had settled near the western side of the harbor. The battleships Retvizan and Tsarevich had grounded in the harbor entrance, partially blocking it. Around noon the next day, Togo followed up the torpedo attack, leading his line of battleships from west to east to bombard the port. Accurate Japanese gunnery damaged several vessels, but Russian shore batteries eventually got the range, and three of Togo’s ships suffered damage as well.
At the same time that its navy was attacking Port Arthur, Japan was landing ground forces in Korea and northern China. Tokyo’s naval strategy was aimed at neutralizing Port Arthur and gaining command of the Yellow Sea to protect transports ferrying Japanese troops to Korea. Although Russia’s Far Eastern Fleet had not been destroyed, it had been effectively bottled up, and the Japanese army’s amphibious operations proceeded without incident.
Japan and Russia both declared war on February 10, by which time the first phase of their naval conflict was over, but the war would continue for 18 months.
With his surprise attacks on February 8 and 9, Togo had not achieved the decisive battle he sought, but he had done as well as could reasonably have been expected. He had sunk or damaged half of Russia’s Port Arthur fleet and bottled up the remainder, dealing a blow to enemy morale from which it would never recover.
Having gained control of the sea, Japan was free to operate as it chose on land. An army of 20,000 landed at Inchon, Korea, and marched north. A second army marched south and laid siege to Port Arthur. Russia was bringing additional troops east along the unfinished Trans-Siberian Railroad, and time was not on the side of the Japanese. Nothing was left to chance, writes historian Richard Connaughton: “Blankets and mounds of rice appeared as if by magic. Herds of cattle, observed and noted by Japanese agents living among the Koreans, were bought, collected and driven toward [a] depot.…When the tired troops arrived…quarters had been prepared for them, fires were lit in the streets, and field kitchens provided hot food.”
From the beginning, the war was an unequal contest. Although Russia’s army was five times the size of Japan’s, its forces were scattered across a vast country and the best troops were not in the Far East. The Japanese managed to place 150,000 men on the Asian mainland where they faced only 80,000 regulars and 23,000 garrison troops. Logistical problems for the Japanese were minor compared with those of the Russians, dependent as the latter were on a single-track railroad. With luck, a train might cover the 5,000 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok in 15 days, but it was not unusual for such a trip to take 40 days.
On May 1, the Japanese decisively defeated a Russian force on the southern end of the Yalu River, and the Russians suffered a succession of setbacks over the next few months. The energy and efficiency of the Japanese army, led by Gen. Maresuke Nogi, contrasted starkly with the chaos and confusion among the Russians. By mid-June, four Japanese divisions were moving closer to Port Arthur. Through the summer and fall of 1904, Japanese infantry would storm one Russian bastion after another. Japanese casualties were heavy, but Port Arthur’s fate was sealed.
In St. Petersburg, Czar Nicholas watched with dismay as disaster followed disaster. He thought of leading his troops in person, but was dissuaded by his courtiers and settled for changing commanders. On March 8, Vice Adm. Stepan Osipovitch Makarov arrived in Port Arthur in place of the luckless Stark, and four days later the czar appointed his former minister of war, Gen. Aleksei N. Kuropatkin, as land commander. Neither man underestimated the Japanese threat.
In a memorandum written in April, Kuropatkin wrote, “In the Japanese we shall…have very serious opponents, who must be reckoned with according to European standards.”
Makarov, whom Togo regarded as the ablest Russian admiral, took steps to restore a sense of mission in Port Arthur. The two shattered battleships, Retvizan and Tsarevich, already under repair, were restored to active service. The Russians began making aggressive patrols outside the harbor and planted new minefields.
Both sides made extensive use of mines during the naval campaign for Port Arthur. Mines had been in use as far back as the American Civil War, but by the turn of the 20th century, their reliability had been greatly improved.
Undetected, the Japanese laid a minefield just outside the harbor and Togo sent cruisers to lure Makarov out on April 12. The Russian took the bait and passed through the minefield without harm but as he returned to port, Admiral Makarov’s flagship, the Petro – pavlovsk, struck a mine that set off its magazines, and another mine heavily damaged the battleship Pobieda. More than 600 Russians died, including Makarov. When word reached Togo of his enemy’s death, Togo, ever the samurai, ordered his men to remove their caps to honor the fallen enemy. Drowning Chinese soldiers could be ignored, but honor must be paid a brave enemy.
The Japanese were also victims of mines. On May 15, two of Togo’s battleships, the Hatsuse and Yashima, were sunk by Russian mines, reducing his battleship force by one-third and mandating a degree of caution on his part. A day earlier, the cruiser Yoshino had been lost to a mine.
For his continuing operations against Port Arthur, Togo operated out of Eliot Island, some 65 miles northeast of the port. Aboard the Mikasa, he received visitors in a spacious but austere cabin. His only comforts were his pipe and a prized set of Zeiss binoculars. The table in front of his desk was covered with maps and charts, but the admiral’s imperturbability was such that some visitors had to remind themselves that Japan was at war.
As the Japanese net around Port Arthur tightened, the czar ordered Admiral Vitgeft, commanding at Port Arthur, to take the remainder of his fleet 1,000 miles north to Vladivostok. He commanded six battleships, three cruisers, and eight destroyers—a fleet that appeared to be at least the equal of Togo’s fleet, diminished as it was by two battleships.
Vitgeft made his move on August 10. Departing at dawn, he set his course south and evaded Togo’s scattered blockaders. But the Russians could steam only at the speed of their slowest ships, and by midday the Japanese had caught up with their foe. The result was a running battle in which, for a time, the decrepit and outgunned Russian ships held their own against the Japanese. The Mikasa absorbed no fewer than 18 hits, three of them from 12-inch shells. Then, abruptly, the battle turned. Several Japanese shells struck the Russian flagship, Tsarevich, killing Vitgeft and most of his staff. The ship’s steering jammed, causing it to go out of control and careen back through the Russian line. The result was chaos, but most of the Russian warships eventually made their way back to Port Arthur.
One of the few criticisms that would be levied against Togo in this instance was that he permitted his enemy to retire in relatively good order. Certainly the Japanese pursuit was uncharacteristically lax. Togo may have been influenced by the need to preserve his remaining battleships, and by the fact that the Russian fleet would be no threat once Port Arthur fell to General Nogi’s infantry. After the Japanese captured 203 Meter Hill, their guns could shell the Russian ships in the harbor. On January 2, 1905, the city trembled from the sound of explosions as the Russians blew up their remaining ships and surrendered. The 11-month campaign had ended in victory for the Japanese.
In St. Petersburg, the court had assumed that the war with Japan would be over in a few weeks. Instead, Japanese troops had laid siege to Port Arthur and had marched into Korea with astonishing speed by April 1904, they were along the banks of the Yalu. Yet it was not until June, four months after Togo’s surprise attack on Port Arthur, that the czar’s advisers decided to send naval reinforcements to the Far East.
On June 20, the czar presided over a meeting of the Higher Naval Board, staffed in the best Russian tradition by geriatric aristocrats. The lone exception was 53-year-old Vice Adm. Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky, whose organizational skills made him a standout in the czar’s navy. His determination was legendary he was prepared to carry on his broad shoulders any new burden laid on by his czar, who wanted him to take the Baltic Fleet and relieve Port Arthur.
A tough disciplinarian, Rozhestvensky had been known to fire live ammunition across the bow of even Russian ships that had ignored his signals. In the words of historian Noel F. Busch, “Burly in stature, extravagant in speech, and given to fits of despondency, rage, and sudden euphoria, Rozhestvensky was the mirror opposite of his tiny, taciturn, and phlegmatic adversary.”
Russia’s Baltic Fleet may have appeared to be the equal of anything it was likely to encounter in the Far East, but those appearances were deceptive. The Russian battleships were so top-heavy they were in danger of capsizing in a rough sea, and their secondary armament was all but submerged in heavy weather. And Russian shortcomings went far beyond equipment. The few skilled officers available were spread so thin as to be of little use. And the crews of the Russian fleet consisted largely of peasants, conscripts, and reservists with little training. Not until the fleet was underway was it discovered that crews also included revolutionaries—sailors whom one officer called “slackers and dangerous elements.”
Preparations for the fleet’s departure had taken nearly four months. Because Russia had no bases along Rozhestvensky’s proposed route (which would take his force halfway around the world), the Russians engaged a German firm to station colliers along the way. This arrangement proved one of the few logistical successes of the voyage.
On October 11, 1904, the motley Russian fleet, a total of 42 vessels, steamed slowly out of the Baltic port of Libau on a sevenmonth voyage to disaster. The simplest maneuvers proved a challenge one battleship ran aground briefly, and another collided with a destroyer. At night Russian searchlights darted over the sea, for there were rumors that the Japanese had torpedo boats in the area. These rumors contributed to Rozhestvensky’s first misfortune. One night off Dogger Bank in the North Sea, Russian lookouts saw vessels. Believing them to be Japanese torpedo boats, the Russians opened fire, sinking a British fishing boat, leaving two dead, and injuring six fishermen, precipitating an international incident. In the chaos, Russians even fired on their own armored cruiser, the Aurora.
An immediate result of the Dogger Bank affair was that the Royal Navy tracked the Russian fleet and sought to harass it in any way it could. The British kept immaculate formation, as if to offer a deliberate contrast with the straggling Russian line. The sight once caused the badly stressed Rozhestvensky to break down. “Those are real seamen,” he sobbed. “If only we…” He broke off, and strode quickly across the bridge.
On December 15, at his last coaling stop in Africa, Rozhestvensky learned that the fall of Port Arthur was imminent. In effect, the fleet that he was being sent to reinforce would soon be captured, and his own voyage was pointless. Alas, the admiral received no new orders from St. Petersburg, and was himself not inclined to turn back. After a year of heavy duty, he ruminated, Togo’s ships must be badly in need of refitting. If the Russians could reach Japanese waters before the enemy fleet was fully restored, they might have a chance.
By Christmas, the Russians reached Madagascar, where Rozhestvensky learned he would be receiving reinforcements. Belatedly reminded that their admiral would have no fleet to greet him at Port Arthur, St. Petersburg was sending him reinforcements: an obsolete battleship, an armored cruiser constructed in 1882, and three 10-year-old coast defense ships of uncertain worth. Rozhestvensky protested in vain that ships so old would prove a liability against the Japanese.
Meanwhile, morale collapsed. The news of Port Arthur’s fall spread quickly through the fleet, and depression combined with a sense of outrage. Russian newspapers told of “Bloody Sunday” in St. Petersburg, when Russian soldiers had killed scores of hungry peasants outside the czar’s palace. Weeks that should have been spent in maneuvers and gunnery training were consumed in basic maintenance and in staving off mutiny. Rozhestvensky attempted to resign and when his offer was refused, took to his cabin with what may have been a nervous breakdown. He cabled St. Petersburg: “I have not the slightest prospect of recovering command of the sea with the force under my orders. The only possible course is to use all force to break through to Vladivostok and from this base to threaten the enemy’s communications.”
As the Russian fleet passed through the Strait of Malacca, Japanese spies in Singapore were unimpressed. The Russian ships were not good at keeping station, the battleships were so heavily laden that their decks were sometimes awash, and the hulls were encrusted with seaweed and barnacles.
Togo’s own fleet, in contrast, was in fighting trim as it waited in the Korean harbor of Masan. A gunnery specialist, Togo regularly exercised his crews at the guns, sometimes attaching a rifle to the 12-inch guns so crews could observe the fall of shot without wasting ammunition. Morale on the Japanese ships was so high as to approach fanaticism.
On May 18, Togo received word that the enemy fleet had left Vietnam on a northerly course. But what would be its route to Vladivostok? While the Strait of Tsushima was the most direct course, Rozhestvensky might choose to steer to the east of the Japanese islands before making for Vladivostok through any of several channels. But then came word that the Russians had diverted all their auxiliaries—storeships, service vessels, and colliers—to Shanghai. That intelligence confirmed that the Russians would take the most direct route, for they could not reach Vladivostok on the eastern course without coaling.
As battle loomed, Togo had four modern battleships Rozhestvensky had five. But Togo had eight heavy cruisers against his enemy’s three, and an overwhelming superiority in light cruisers and torpedo boats. More important, the Japanese sailors were splendidly trained. Togo had drilled into his men that in battle they should never believe that the Japanese were losing. Damage to one’s own ship was clearly visible, he instructed them, while damage inflicted on the enemy was often out of sight.
A Japanese cruiser first spotted the Russian hospital ship south of Tsushima Island early on the morning of May 27. At Masan, Togo heard with relief that his assumption that the Russians would opt for the Tsushima Strait had been borne out. While his fleet raised steam, additional Japanese cruisers began to shadow the Russian armada, which approached in two parallel lines.
Togo had initially planned to open the battle with his torpedo boats, but the seas proved too heavy. Instead, he led his capital ships out of Masan to a point northeast of Tsushima Island, where he caught his first glimpse of the Russians. The first shots were exchanged at about 11 o’clock in the morning. Togo noted with satisfaction that his enemy was engaged in a clumsy attempt to reform his two columns into a single line. In the best Nelsonian tradition, he ran signal flags up the Mikasa’s mast bearing the message, “The country’s fate depends upon this battle. Let every man do his duty with all his might.”
From a position northeast of the Russian van, Togo led his battle fleet west and then southwest, so that for a time the two fleets were sailing in opposite directions in almost parallel columns. As the Japanese had earlier lain between the enemy and his goal of Vladivostok, the purpose of these maneuvers is unclear. Togo may have been attempting to get to windward of the Russians in order to make more effective use of his optical rangefinders.
To effectively engage, Togo was obliged to make the boldest move in the battle. At 1:40 P.M., he ordered both divisions of his fleet to turn to port, toward the enemy line. Rather than turn simultaneously, each ship was to execute a 180-degree turn in sequence, at the same position, following the Mikasa. The Russians realized that they were being presented with a fixed target, and damaged several of the Japanese warships as they executed their turns. The Mikasa, a gold imperial chrysanthemum adorning its prow, was especially hard hit. A simultaneous turn would have been less risky, but would have placed Togo’s flagship at the rear of his column rather than in the van— hardly the place for a samurai.
Now the Japanese gunners demonstrated their superiority. As the two columns steamed north east, separated by some 4,000 yards, the Russians suffered heavy casualties. An officer aboard the Kniaz Suvorov, Rozhestvensky’s flagship, described the carnage:
Abreast of the foremost funnel arose a gigantic pillar of smoke, water and flame…. The next shell struck the side by the center six-inch turret…. Smoke and fire leapt out of the officers’ gangway a shell, having fallen into the captain’s cabin, and having penetrated the deck, had burst in the officers’ quarters, setting them on fire.
Rozhestvensky was seriously wounded in the exchange and lost consciousness for a time. As his flagship staggered out of line, the admiral was transferred to a Russian destroyer. His last signal to his second in command, Rear Adm. Nikolai Nebogatoff, was to press on to Vladivostok.
The leading Russian battleships, Suvorov, Aleksandr III, and Borodino, were wrapped in smoke, their crews unable to make out a target, their decks littered with bodies and debris. A fourth vessel, the Osliabia, sank at 3:10 P.M., the first battleship ever sunk by gunfire. The action paused for a time as several Russian ships circled the crippled Suvorov before resuming their course north. Twice Togo was able to cross their line of advance, inflicting heavy advantage in the ultimate naval tactic of “crossing the T.”
In the late afternoon, the Aleksandr III led a straggling line of warships in the direction of Vladivostok, some 400 miles away. Damage to the Japanese had been minimal only the Mikasa and Asama had been badly battered. For the Russians, the day had been an unrelieved disaster. To cap it, the Aleksandr III capsized at about seven o’clock that evening, and soon after, the Borodino exploded.
With the Japanese penchant for night actions, Togo now unleashed the destroyers and torpedo boats that he had withheld from the battle thus far. Although the Japanese scored relatively few hits, the effect of the night attack was to further disperse the enemy ships and to dishearten the Russian captains.
At daylight on May 28, Togo resumed the attack with his capital ships. He was by then some 150 miles from where the battle had begun. Near the island of Takeshima, Nebogatoff in the Nikolai I found himself under heavy fire and running short of ammunition. After meeting with his officers, Nebogatoff ran up a white tablecloth as a symbol of surrender. According to his staff, Togo was “astonished and somewhat disappointed” that the Russians had not gone down fighting.
Tsushima was the greatest naval battle since Trafalgar, and was even more one-sided. The Japanese had sunk six of 11 Russian battleships and captured four. One was scuttled, and they sank, captured, or drove into port 25 other vessels. Only one Russian cruiser and two destroyers reached Vladivostok. The Japanese lost only three torpedo boats.
A political cartoon captures the Russians' loss as a smirking Togo stands over a devastated Baltic Fleet, its debris spread out across Port Arthur. Japan suffered minimal losses during the battle, and gained the upper-hand with control of the port.
In St. Petersburg, a shaken Czar Nicholas realized that the war was lost. He sent his ablest diplomat, Count Sergius Witte, to the United States to discuss President Theodore Roosevelt’s earlier offer to negotiate peace with Japan. Under the terms of the Portsmouth Treaty, signed on September 5, 1905, Japan was awarded the Liaotung Peninsula, including Port Arthur, and the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Russia promised to honor an earlier commitment to evacuate Manchuria, while recognizing Japan’s special interest in Korea.
At a naval hospital at Sasebo, Admiral Rozhestvensky received the best care available. Doctors removed a steel splinter from his skull, and the Russian began a slow recovery. One of his first visitors was Togo, who assured him that no warrior incurred shame from an honorable defeat. In sharp contrast to Japan’s cruel treatment of prisoners in World War II, Russian sailors captured at Tsushima were treated humanely and eventually repatriated.
Once in St. Petersburg, Rozhestvensky was dismissed from the service for “failure to perform his duty,” but this was considered a relatively light sentence. Nebogatoff, his deputy, was shot. Rozhestvensky lived on in obscurity until his death in 1909.
Togo and his army counterpart, Gen. Maresuke Nogi, were national heroes. When Togo took a train from Yokohama to Tokyo to make his personal report to the emperor, cheering crowds lined the track, waving flags. On December 20, Togo was made chief of the Imperial Navy General Staff, in effect the supreme commander of his country’s naval forces. His farewell speech to his fleet included a line that tells much of his success: “The gods award the crown to those who, by their training in peacetime, are victorious even before they go into battle.”
Togo’s victories were noted in Europe, especially in Great Britain. The evaluation of how important battleship speed and training in gunnery had been in the one-sided victory contributed to the decision by British officials to begin developing the Dreadnought-class of big-gun warships. Togo’s husbanding his strength until presented with the opportunity to crush his enemy at Tsushima reminded all navy men of the virtues of tactical caution.
Togo became a roving ambassador for the new Japan. In 1911, he and General Nogi represented their country at the coronation of King George V of Great Britain. On his way home, Togo called on President William H. Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, who had helped bring the Russo-Japanese War to a close.
Although virtually retired, Togo was named fleet admiral in 1913. A year later, he became mentor to the 11-year-old crown prince, who would later become Emperor Hirohito. Among the prince’s advisers, Togo is known to have favored the concept of imperial absolutism against those who sought to limit the emperor’s power. He undoubtedly transmitted to the crown prince his own concepts of honor and duty. We can infer also that Togo passed on to his protégé the lesson of the war with Russia: the importance of committing a large, well-prepared fleet, without worrying unduly about such diplomatic niceties as a declaration of war.
Although Togo had employed neither aircraft nor submarines at Tsushima, he also later became a strong advocate of submarines and of creating a naval air force.
In the 1920s, Togo became politically allied with the ultranationalist right. Along with other senior officers, he opposed the Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922, which restricted the size of the Japanese navy relative to those of the United States and European powers. He took no part in the political upheavals of the early 1930s, but did nothing to discourage Japan’s growing xenophobia.
In the spring of 1934, Togo was found to be suffering from cancer. On May 28, the anniversary of Tsushima, the emperor awarded him the rank of marquis. Because he was too weak to attend a ceremony at the palace, Togo had his full dress uniform laid out across his bed. He died two days later.
In fighting Russia, Japan gambled that a surprise attack, before Russia was prepared, would allow Japan to seize control of the sea while the army moved on its land objectives. Togo and Nogi played their roles to perfection.
In 1941, Japan’s strategy would be similar: Destroy the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, then control the Pacific long enough to acquire the natural resources, especially oil, that would allow it to win a war of attrition. Fittingly, the lead carrier Akagi in the attack on Pearl Harbor flew the battle flag that Togo had flown on the Mikasa in his surprise attack on Port Arthur. Confronting the United States, however, would prove very different from dealing with Czar Nicholas II’s decrepit navy.
After World War II, Togo’s reputation went into eclipse, a victim of Japan’s revulsion against all things military. Schoolbooks no longer exalted his name, and the anniversaries of his birth and death went unmarked. At the end of the 1980s, however, Togo’s reputation was rehabilitated, and a statue of him was raised near his birthplace in Satsuma.
Togo was without question a brave and skillful sailor. The path on which he led his country, however, would eventually lead to crushing military defeat, and repudiation of the Bushido code by which he had lived.
Originally published in the Winter 2009 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.
Shigenori Tōgō (jap. 東郷 茂徳 , Tōgō Shigenori 10. joulukuuta 1882 Kagoshima – 23. heinäkuuta 1950 Tokio)   oli japanilainen diplomaatti, joka toimi Japanin ulkoministerinä toisen maailmansodan aikana vuosina 1941–1942 ja 1945. Sodan jälkeen hänet tuomittiin Tokion sotarikosoikeudenkäynnissä rikoksista rauhaa vastaan ja hän kuoli vankeudessa.
Tōgō oli lähtöisin varakkaasta perheestä.  Hän valmistui Tokion yliopistosta ja loi uransa Japanin ulkoministeriön palveluksessa. Tōgō palveli Japanin lähetystöissä Kiinassa, Yhdysvalloissa ja eri Euroopan maissa, ja toimi ulkoministeriön Euroopan ja Amerikan asiain osaston päällikkönä.  Hän oli Japanin suurlähettiläänä Saksassa vuosina 1937–1938 ja Neuvostoliitossa vuodesta 1938.  Tōgōn puoliso oli saksalainen nainen, jonka hän nai vuonna 1920 työskennellessään Japanin Berliinin-suurlähetystössä.  
Tōgō nimitettiin Hideki Tōjōn hallituksen ulkoministeriksi lokakuussa 1941.   Tōgō yritti saada aikaan läpimurron Japanin ja Yhdysvaltain välisissä neuvotteluissa,  mutta Japanin hallitus päättikin aloittaa sodan Yhdysvaltoja vastaan. Tōgō erosi ulkoministerin tehtävästä 1. syyskuuta 1942, koska hän ei hyväksynyt Tōjōn aggressiivista sotapolitiikkaa ja erillisen Suur-Aasian ministeriön perustamista hallinnoimaan valloitettuja alueita. Tōgō kutsuttiin vielä sodan lopulla vuonna 1945 ulko- ja Suur-Aasian-ministeriksi Kantarō Suzukin hallitukseen.   Tōgō oli yksi kolmesta ministeristä, jotka kannattivat antautumista ensimmäisessä Hiroshiman atomipommin jälkeen pidetyssä ylimmän sotaneuvoston kokouksessa 9. elokuuta 1945. 
Tōgō oli yksi syytetyistä vuosien 1946–1948 Tokion sotarikosoikeudenkäynnissä. Hänet tuomittiin rikoksista rauhaa vastaan 20 vuoden vankeuteen. Hän kuoli vankilassa vuonna 1950.  
Togo was the Japanese Foreign Minister, a position similar to the U.S. Sec. of State. He held this position from Oct. 1941 to Sept. 1942 and from April 1945 to Aug. 1945. Togo attempted to prevent war with the U.S. in 1941, altho he later defended Japan's decision for war (Togo, "The Cause of Japan", pg. 178 - 190). When asked in April 1945 by Premier Suzuki to again become Foreign Minister, Togo refused on the grounds that Suzuki was not committed to ending the war. When Suzuki said that Togo could work to end the war, he accepted the position (U.S. Army, "Statements of Japanese Officials", #50304).
As Foreign Minister, Togo was a member of Japan's Cabinet, the government decision-making body. He was also a member of the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, known as the Big 6 since it had 6 members. The Big 6 was very influential in war policy decisions.
Togo, more than anyone else in the Japanese Cabinet, pushed Japan toward peace. His efforts were restricted by the military to petitioning Russia to help Japan end the war. When the Japanese Cabinet was unmoved to surrender by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, Togo worked with Premier Suzuki and Privy Seal Kido to have the emperor request the Cabinet to surrender. It was this that brought Japan's surrender.
(Togo Shigenori is not to be confused with the Japanese Primier/Minister of War Tojo Hideki or Admiral Togo Heihachiro).
Togo — History and Culture
Compared to many other African nations, Togo has a short history. There is no evidence of ancient civilization here and the earliest known records only go back 10 centuries. Modern history has been short for Togo as well since it avoided early colonization by Europe and gained independence early on, with only a short period as a colony per se. It is perhaps this limited European cultural influence which has allowed Togo to remain steeped in traditional African culture, which can be seen in the voodoo beliefs which are still widely practiced today.
Between the 11th and 16th centuries, Togo was populated by various tribes, who migrated here from nearby areas. Little is known about the history of the country before this time. The Portuguese arrived in the region in the late 15th century, although they did not settle. Many European nations used Togo as part of their bases to gain slaves for onward transportation to the US and Caribbean, earning this area of West Africa the nickname the ‘Slave Coast’.
Slavery was abolished in the early 19th century however, toward the end of that century Africa suffered another blow from the empire-building European nations. In a desperate bid to prove might and international power, European countries carved up any remaining regions of the continent that had not been colonized. In 1884, Germany declared a protectorate over Togo (calling it ‘Togoland’).
After WWI, in which battles of the war were fought in Togo, the country was divided into two zones, both controlled by the Allies: one British and the other French. By 1920, most of the territory was succeeded to the French, bar a small portion that was still controlled by the British, called ‘British Togoland’. British Togoland joined the newly independent nation of Ghana in 1956 and the French controlled area of Togo became an autonomous republic of France in 1959.
This was short lived since by 1960, the country had declared independence in what was a peaceful and smooth transition. However, the first president of the new country was assassinated three years after coming to power in a military coup led by Etienne Eyada Gnassingbe. After another coup in 1967, Eyada Gnassingbe assumed power as dictator, a role which he held onto for the next 38 years. After his sudden death in 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbe immediately took office.
This was met with widespread condemnation from the international community, who urged the country to hold democratic elections. He immediately stepped down and called elections, which saw him reelected. His leadership has had a stabilizing effect since the country experienced resounding economic and political difficulties in the early 1990s.
Although a relatively small country in comparison to its African neighbors, Togo has a rich culture which is reflected in its 37 tribal ethnic groups, which include the Ewe, the Mina, and the Kabre. Togo was a French colony, and the French influence remains since French is the official language, although several other languages are spoken. Native tribal influences are still strong in Togo since the majority of the population follows traditional animist beliefs.
Recent culture has seen Togo put onto the world stage by its national soccer team which reached the FIFA World Cup in 2006. Its star player, Emmanuel Adebayor, currently earns millions playing in the English Premier League and was voted African player of the year in 2008. The team reached the headlines when their bus was attacked by machine gun fire on its way to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, and event which resulted in fatalities.
Togo was the true hero dog of the serum run it’s about time he got his due
Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
Late last December, Disney released their new film “Togo,” about the 1925 Nome Serum Run, exclusively on their Disney+ streaming service. That movie inspired this article, but you don’t need to watch the movie to follow along. With the start of mushing seasons and the 2020 Iditarod fast approaching, this is the perfect time to remember the greatest mushing tale of them all./>Togo was the lead dog for Leonhard Seppala's team during the longest and most dangerous leg of the serum run to Nome in 1925. (Stefannaumovv via Creative Commons)
Just the basic facts of the Nome Serum Run make for a thriller, including sick children, gale-force winds, whiteout conditions, cracking ice, and dogs and men pushed beyond their limits. Beginning around the middle of January 1925, several children in Nome contracted diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection that targets the respiratory system. In short, diphtheria victims can choke to death as infected tissue expands and block airways. It’s an ugly way to die, throats filling with a grey mass and throats swelling as the patient asphyxiates. Unfortunately, Nome’s only doctor had run out of the serum necessary to treat the infection. An earlier order for a resupply went unfulfilled with the arrival of winter.
Winter and a nasty approaching storm prevented planes from delivering the serum. With only one method of transportation left, Nome’s salvation was left to dog sled teams. Over the course of five and a half days, 20 drivers and 150 dogs traveled almost 700 miles in a relay race against time. Leonhard Seppala, already a dog racing legend, set out to retrieve the serum from Nenana. His beloved Togo, a husky named for a Japanese admiral, was in his typical lead position.
When Seppala left, his intention was to travel the entire course on his own. A relay of drivers was built after his departure, and he would still drive the longest and most dangerous leg. Early on the morning of Feb. 2, musher Gunnar Kaasen arrived in Nome with the necessary serum, staving off a potential epidemic that could have depopulated the Seward Peninsula.
Details of Nome’s desperation and the serum relay were transmitted to the Lower 48. Unbeknownst to Seppala as he raced in minus 40-degree weather, his efforts were a national sensation. After the race, Kaasen, Seppala and their lead dogs became celebrities, touring the country.
Contrary to perception, historians manage to watch historical movies all the time without fainting from every inaccuracy. For example, “Togo” the movie opens with Seppala driving a dog team through the woods and down a steep slope to the small town of Nome, which is shown surrounded by sea and mountains. Except, Nome isn’t directly surrounded by wooded mountains but by treeless tundra. The movie fails to slavishly recreate 1925 Nome, yet it does replicate a sense of the community’s relative isolation. This aspect of life in Nome matters more to the story than the proximity of mountains, even if the film depiction better matches the Outside perception of Alaska — trees, mountains and ice exclusively — than the actual Alaska complexity.
The visible Nome businesses, including the Sideboard, Golden Gate Hotel and Dexter Saloon, match the names if not the exact appearance of their historical inspirations. And the real Nome hospital was larger in every dimension than the small building shown in the movie. Shot around Alberta, Canada, the film takes numerous little liberties with the physical surroundings. However, these details impair neither the story nor the essential historic truths of the diphtheria outbreak, Seppala and Togo.
The diphtheria threat was real, as were the dangers of the trail faced by Seppala, the other drivers and their dogs. Five people in Nome died. Many of the mushers endured severe frostbite, and several dogs died from the cold and exertion. The cracking of the ice over water was also all too real, with teams sometimes only inches from falling forever into the frozen depths.
While some smaller aspects were altered for the sake of the movie, what might be considered some of the more sensational aspects of the movie are historically accurate. These factual scenes include a young Togo leaping through a window to find his master, Seppala almost driving a dog team over a cliff in an earlier race, and the crossing of the ice-covered Norton Sound in order to save time.
Compared to more outrageous and offensively inaccurate portrayals of history, like “Braveheart” or “Pocahontas,” “Togo” is almost a documentary, perfectly suitable for classroom use. As a bonus, the sharp cheekbones and lined face of star Willem Dafoe are eerily similar to Seppala.
And most importantly for the sake of an accurate narrative, Balto is limited to seconds on screen, a memorable but lesser aspect of a far grander story. If the average American knows one thing about the Nome serum run, they know about Balto, partly due to the 1995 animated feature. Balto was Kaasen’s lead dog during the serum run and thus was at the forefront as the team entered Nome carrying the lifesaving serum. As a result, Balto received an outsized portion of the fame from the journey, including more acclaim than Togo.
Seppala bred, named, raised and trained Balto but did not race with him. In a 1927 New York Times article, he claimed that a forgotten dog named Fox has been co-lead with Balto on Kaasen’s team. Three years later, in his memoir, Seppala backtracked ever so slightly. He said, “I hope I shall never be the man to take away credit from any dog or driver who participated in that run” but maintained that Balto was only a “scrub dog.” Togo depicts Fox and Balto leading for Kaasen.
A Balto statue still stands in New York’s Central Park. Said Seppala in his memoir, “I resented the statue to Balto, for if any dog deserved special mention, it was Togo.” Seppala, who died in 1967, would have also resented Anchorage’s Balto Seppala Park, which was developed in the early 1980s. The park fosters the misconception of Balto as the singular hero dog of Nome and links Seppala more strongly to Balto than they were in real life.
Togo’s story isn’t some form of hidden history. His mounted body is featured at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race headquarters in Wasilla, and his role in the serum run is well known among mushers and historians. Still, Balto remains more famous for the general public. Any opportunity is a good opportunity to spread the worthy truth of Togo./>Famous 1925 Serum Run dog Togo is displayed in the exhibit Polar Bear Garden: The Place Between Alaska and Russia on Friday, March 10, 2017, at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. (Erik Hill / ADN) />Famous 1925 Serum Run dogs Togo, left, and Balto are displayed in the exhibit Polar Bear Garden: The Place Between Alaska and Russia on Friday, March 10, 2017, at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. (Erik Hill / ADN)
“Balto Not Nome Hero Dog Seppala Says Husky Named Fox Was Leader of His Team.” New York Times, March 9, 1927.
Ricker, Elizabeth M. Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1930.
Salisbury, Gay, and Laney Salisbury. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Meen in A Race Against an Epidemic. New York: Norton, 2005.