The “Nelson of the East.” “The Silent Admiral.” “Last of the Samurai.” All used to describe the “Victor of Tsushima,” Tōgō Heihachirō. Born the son of a samurai serving the Shimazu daimyo in Kagoshima in January 1848, one of four brothers, at the age of 15 Heihachirō witnessed the shelling of Kagoshima with impunity by the Royal Navy in retaliation for the Namamugi Incident. When the daimyo of Satsuma established a navy in 1864 to defend Japan’s shores, Tōgō promptly enlisted. He was assigned to the decrepit stern-wheeler 'Kasuga' as a gunner just in time for the Boshin War to erupt. Following the Japanese triumph, Tōgō was selected to study naval matters at the Thames Naval College in 1872.
Returning home in 1878, while in command of the 'Naniwa' at the Battle of the Yalu during the first Sino-Japanese War, Tōgō performed brilliantly. In recognition, he was promoted to rear admiral at the war’s end in 1895. In 1903, the naval minister stunned everyone when he appointed Tōgō commander-in-chief of the Combined Imperial Fleet. As it turned out, an adequate choice …
At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, Tōgō took the fleet to sea and promptly defeated an enemy force off Port Arthur. As Japanese ground forces laid siege to the city, Tōgō readied his ships for the arrival of the Russian Baltic Fleet, which had sailed halfway round the world to reach the war. In May 1905, Tōgō took the Russian Admiral Rozhestvensky to task, utterly destroying the enemy in the Tsushima Strait. The war was over.
Dodging retirement, Heihachirō served on the Supreme War Council which advised the Emperor on matters military; more significant, he was appointed to oversee the education of Prince Hirohito in 1914. Numerous honors followed; Tōgō was elevated to koshaku in May 1934 and died the next day at the age of 86.