In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.
The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.
The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.
Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.
The Japanese re-built Oryol, which they renamed Iwami, by substantially reducing its top-hamper and removing the lighter calibre guns.