Punning the Russian Fleet into Submission

"Gonbei who is picking up rubbish"

In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, perhaps the climatic moment was the great Battle of Tsushima, when the Japanese navy wiped out the Russian Baltic fleet that had sailed all the way round the world to cut the supply lines of the Japanese army fighting in Manchuria.

Even though the Japanese fleet was largely British-built and trained, and even had Welsh coal, which had the advantage of being relatively smokeless, a major advantage in the age before radar, this was the first time the Japanese had taken on a White nation in a large-scale war, so they were understandably nervous.

The voyage of the Russian Baltic fleet was well publicized so the Japanese had plenty of time to anticipate and train for the battle that was coming. This training included learning the silhouettes of individual Russian ships so that they could be identified in battle. To help memorize the names of the Russian ships, but also to keep morale high, the Japanese created insulting puns on the original Russian names. These made the names of the ships easier to memorize but also implanted a healthy disrespect for the might of the Russian navy that served to build confidence.

The battleship Aleksander III in Japanese is pronounced Arekusandoru Sansei. This was then turned into the pun "akire Santa," which means "surprised Santa."

The battleship Borodino was punned as "boro dero," which means "get the rags!"

The Russian cruiser Aurora in Japanese is Aryohru. This was then turned into "ari yoru," which means "the ant visits."

The Russian cruiser Izumrud in Japanese is pronounced izumurudo. This then became "mizu mo ruzo," which means "water is also leaking."

Perhaps the most outlandish and scathing pun was reserved for the armoured cruiser Dmitri Donskoy, named after the 14th century Grand Prince of Muscovy, who fought against the Mongols with mixed success. In Japanese this noble name is pronounced Domitori Donsukoi. This then became "gomitori gonbei," which means "Gonbei who is picking up rubbish." Gonbei was a name common among low-class manual workers.

With such a psychological boost, when the Russian fleet finally showed up, the Japanese Imperial Navy, led by Admiral Togo had little difficultly in gaining a crushing victory.


Colin Liddell
Fujiland
12th April, 2013
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