Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. President Lincoln made note of this in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
On 27 May 1905, the Russian Baltic fleet engaged the Japanese navy at Tsushima Strait, which lies between Korea and Japan. The battle was a decisive win for the Japanese with the Russians losing 34 ships. It shifted the balance of power in Asia for years to come.
The Russia-Japan War of 1904-1905 was the first major war of the 20th century. Russia was large territorially but due to harsh winters needed a warm water port for its navy to operate. They expanded into both China and Korea to acquire resources and establish a naval base at Port Arthur ( Lüshunkou District today) in Liaodong Peninsula in China. Japan was not happy with Russia expanding into these areas and that it had supported the Chinese during the 1894 conflict. Japan tried to work out a deal to allow Russia access to Korea under Japanese control. The Russians did not agree, and Japan decided to attack Russia. Since international law at the time did not require a declaration of war prior to an attack, they delivered notice on the very day of the attack to the Russians.
Japan had quickly modernized and westernized once it opened for trade. The arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 put pressure on Japan to open to the world. It was still ruled by Tokugawa shogunate (military rule) which had begun in the 1600’s. Foreigners were not allowed though a Dutch trading post was allowed owing to special connection created by William Adams. He was an English navigator for Dutch fleet that sailed to Japan. Williams became an advisor to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and stayed in Japan for the remainder of his life. He was the basis for the fictional John Blackthorne in the novel Shogun. He did become samurai, a rare honor for a foreigner and Hatamoto.
By the mid-19th century though the shogunate was showing its age. While it controlled contact with foreigners, many had been exposed to Western technology and ideas. Internally things were starting to come apart. A series of famines led to unrest and the belief the shogunate was unable to cope. Also, the fact they were bullied by other nations (particularly the United States) to open their borders for trade led to the fall of the shogunate in 1867. This led to a period called the Meji Restoration where power was restored to the throne. It brought about an end to the feudal system and a cabinet style of government. Trade with the west ramped up along with the desire to create a military that would not only defend them but make them a power as well.
The surprise attack on 8 February 1904 shocked the world. The Russian military did not believe Japan would attack, and if it did would be easily repelled. Under the command of Admiral Togo Heihachiro, the Japanese fleet sank ships and bombarded the city. While Russian ships further in the bay were protected, the Japanese bombarded the city and attempted to blockade (this proved difficult). However, the Japanese did not give up and ultimately kept pounding the city for months preventing any military aid (from land or sea) to aid the Russians. The city would surrender formally in January 1905 when General Anatoly Stessel surrendered to the Japanese seeing it was no longer worth defending (it surprised his superiors in St. Petersburg). His surrender was controversial as he still had large stores of ammunition available to him. He would be court martialed later for cowardice and sentenced to death (later changed to 10 years imprisonment). He would be pardoned later by Czar Nicholas II.
Believing the Russian navy could still defeat the Japanese, the Czar created the Third Pacific Fleet and joining with the Second Fleet would become the Baltic Fleet that would sail 18,000 miles from Kronstadt (St. Petersburg) to meet the Japanese at Tsushima Strait. Admiral Togo had plenty of time to prepare to meet the Baltic fleet. Togo had already wiped out the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. A naval squadron from Vladivostok had proven its effectiveness by sinking Japanese transports. However, in August 1904 a confrontation with Japanese forces resulted in the sinking of one heavy armored cruiser. The other two ships had been severely damaged and had to return to port unable to fight again for a long while. During the interim, Togo sent many of his ships back to their home ports for repairs. And he spent time training the crews for the upcoming battle.
This meant the Russians were facing well rested and trained crews, along with ships that had been repaired and ready for battle. Togo’s plan was to trap the Baltic fleet in the Tsushima Strait and to engage them in several operations. On the Russian side, Admiral Rojestvensky and his staff argued on the best course to attack the Japanese. Ultimately, he decided on Tsushima on May 17 and ordered the fleet to proceed. Togo had built watchtowers all over the area and manned to watch for the Russian arrival. Over 70 ships, many converted commercials vessels, were sent out to watch and report of any Russian movement. Early on the morning of 27 May, confirmation was finally made of the Russian fleet and that it was headed for Tsushima Strait.
The battle would last for two days and was decisive. Of the 38 Russian ships that were in battle, 34 were sunk or captured (some were interned in neutral ports). One transport and two destroyers managed to get to Vladivostok; one cruiser managed to get all the way back to Kronstadt. Togo lost three torpedo boats, but the Russian Pacific fleet had been destroyed. It is considered one of the greatest naval victories in modern history.
The destruction of the Russian Baltic Fleet astonished and shocked Europe and America. Japan now was a major force in Asia to be reckoned with. President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States negotiated a peace treaty between the two in August 1905 (Treaty of Portsmouth). The balance of power in Asia was a central issue since the war involved (directly and indirectly) China, Korea, Europe, and the United States. Russia would give up its claims in Korea and China and recognize Japan as the dominant power in Korea. The colonial powers in Asia were now on notice. Japan was now in the game, and you ignore it at your peril.
Anti-Japanese sentiments would grow because of the war. In California, the Alien Land Act was passed in 1913. This law prohibited the ownership or leasing of land by those banned from citizenship under federal law. Many Japanese immigrants had bought agricultural land to raise crops, so the law was to target them (it also effected Chinese and others as well). To get around it, many Japanese put their American born male children as owners. Such laws were common in many Western states. And legislatures enacted restrictions on that later as well. The U.S. Supreme Court declared such laws constitutional and would remain in force until the 1950’s. Then they were either rescinded or made invalid when the Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional (Oyama v, California (1948) and Fuji Sei v. State of California (1952). During the time they were in place, many Japanese Americans were forced to give up their farms and relocate elsewhere.
Russian prestige was hit hard by the disastrous military defeat. Other powers (Britain, France, Germany and to a lesser extent the United States), no longer viewed Russia as a strong military power. Russia was already considered a backward country where much of its population was agrarian with a thin industrial strata of industrial workers. They had serfdom-where landless peasants were forced to serve nobility who owned lands-until 1861. The large cities by 1900 had become overcrowded with industrial workers who were not paid very much. A combination of costly wars starting in the last century, periods of famine, and general resentment against the monarchy all contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905. While the Czar did implement reforms to placate the populace, the entry of Russia into World War I in 1914 resulted in even more unrest due to food shortages, ruined economy, and military defeats. The Communists would ultimately topple the regime in 1918.
The first time I met Marshall Drew, he pulled out a well-worn book. “This,” he said with a chuckle, “is an announcement of my death.” Of course, the published account of his demise was wrong. In fact, Marshall lived almost three quarters of a century longer. But many of the passengers he was traveling with on that long-ago trip were not so fortunate. Marshall was one of the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic. I had interviewed him years ago in Massachusetts. Now I was seeing his name listed on the passenger memorial for the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The exhibition charts the history and legacy of the White Star Line and the Titanic through an astonishing array of rare items original to the ship, props from the 1997 James Cameron film, and real stories of people from Worcestershire who were aboard the ship on what should have been her triumphant maiden voyage to New York.
But over the years, treasures telling the story of those passengers, both those who survived and those who sadly lost their lives, have been recovered. Click or scroll through to discover some of the most spectacular, and valuable, pieces from the tragic ship.
On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.
The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.
On 20 May 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo nonstop flight from the U.S. to France, Amelia Earhart set out to be the first female aviator to accomplish the same feat. Unlike Lindbergh, Earhart was already well known before this flight. She gained fame in 1928 as part of a three person crew to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. On that trip, she kept the plane’s log.
Early on 20 May 1932, her Lockheed Vega 5B took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. She intended to replicate Lindbergh’s flight but encountered strong northerly winds, mechanical problems, and icy conditions. Instead of landing in France, she landed in a pasture at Culmore(north of Derry)in Northern Ireland. When asked by a farmhand how far she had flown, she famously said “From America.” Her feat received international acclaim. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross in the U.S., Cross of Honor of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Her fame allowed her develop friendships with many important and influential people such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Earhart would continue to make solo flights and set records. Sadly her next most famous mission would forever be shrouded in mystery. In 1937 she attempted–along with copilot Frederick Noonan–to fly around the world. On 2 Jul 1937, her plane disappeared near Howland Island in the South Pacific. Despite extensive searching by the U.S.Navy and Coast Guard, no trace of the plane or its pilots were ever found. The search was called off on 19 July. Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 Jul 1939 so that her estate could pay bills. Since then numerous theories as to what happened have been put forth. Many believe her plane either crashed and sank or that they landed on an island and perished awaiting rescue. Some intriquing evidence recovered in 2012 off Nikumaroro might be from their plane which supports the crash and sank hypothesis. More speculative theories have her being a spy for FDR or being captured and executed (along with Noonan)by the Japanese on Saipan (the area checked for the pilots bodies revealed nothing). A 1970 book claiming she had survived, moved to New Jersey, and changed her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. There really was an Irene Bolam who had been a banker in New York in the 1940’s. She sued the publisher and obtained an out-of-court settlement. The book was taken off the market. National Geographic throughly debunked it in 2006 on Undiscovered History.
For over 10 years, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at Luxor Hotel and Casino has provided visitors with an in-depth look at RMS Titanic’s ill-fated journey across the Atlantic Ocean. This year, Titanic enthusiasts can honor National Maritime Day on May 22 at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, home to more than 400 artifacts including dramatic recreations of first and third-class cabins, a replica of the Grand Staircase and a 15-ton section of the Titanic’s starboard hull.
From the History files:
3 May 1906: Sayaji Rao, the Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda, arrives in New York on Celtic II (Capt. Ranson) for a two-month visit to the United States, during which he will visit a number of large universities, the White House, Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon. Onlookers at the pier are reported to be disappointed by the fact that the Gaekwar, supposedly the second wealthiest prince in India, disembarks dressed in a frock coat and top hat, rather than his $30,000 bejeweled robe. Continued 27 July. (Sources: The New
York Times, 14 May and 28 July 1906; Ellis Island ship manifest.)
Way back when Johnny Carson was the king of late night television, he had a round of guest hosts who would fill in. One of them was Don Rickles. Rickles was guest hosting the show and was fooling around with the cigarette box on his desk (back then smoking on television was allowed). He ended up damaging it but put it back together. Then when Carson returned and opened his cigarette box, he discovers it was damaged. At the time Rickles had his own television show on the same network (CPO Sharkey). And here is what happened….
The Titanic is being brought back from the deep, more than a century after its ill-fated maiden voyage, at a landlocked Chinese theme park where tourists can soon splash out for a night on a full scale replica. It has taken six years — longer than the construction of the original Titanic — plus 23,000 tons of steel, more than a hundred workers and a hefty one billion yuan ($153.5 million) price tag. Everything from the dining room to the luxury cabins and even the door handles are styled on the original Titanic. It forms the centrepiece of a Sichuan province theme park more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the sea.
A new TV documentary about the famous Belfast-built ocean liner warns it may eventually disappear unless action is taken to preserve what is left of the tragic vessel. Experts have discovered that the ship’s remains are being destroyed by voracious metal-eating bacteria on the sea floor.