Russo-Japanese War

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Greater Manchuria, Russian (outer) Manchuria is region to upper right in ligher Red; Liaodong Peninsula is the wedge extending into the Yellow Sea
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) was an extremely bloody conflict that grew out of the rival imperialist ambitions of Imperial Russia and Japan in Manchuria and Korea. The war was fought principally over possession of the town of Port Arthur (aka Lushun and Ryojun) and the Liaodong Peninsula plus the railway from the port to Harbin.

Immediate Causes of the War

Imperial Russia failed to negotiate in good faith over a two year period (1902-1904) with Japan over their respective roles and interests in the Chinese province of (inner) Manchuria, particularly the sub-province of Liaoning. These bilateral talks frustrated Japan immensely as Russia was operating under a mere lease forced upon the Qing Dynasty in 1898 for Liaodong. Following other coerced concessions from 1896 regarding Railway rights, etc., Russia strongly fortified Port Arthur beginning in 1895 three years before getting the concession and mere months after the Triple Intervention was resolved in November 1895, by a reluctantly acquiescent Japan. Russia also fortified other points inland, built the Manchurian Railway down from the Trans-Siberian Railway and generally entrenched themselves arrogantly in a region that Japan had long considered part of its strategic sphere of influence, having won those very same territories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). As the nearest Great Power, Russia herself had provided the Japanese with the example of modern power exercising imperialistic behavior by a variety of wars with China. Japan copied the behavior, culminating with her war against China in 1894. However Japan was bullied and humiliated by three European powers, Russia, France and Germany, just three days after settling a peace with China. An exhausted Japan had had to agree to retrocede the Liaodong Peninsula, including the deep water ice-free Port Arthur. Less than eight years after the Triple Intervention, Japan found herself faced with a Russia that was building an unassailable position of strength and dominance in the very same territories she had been forced to give back, as well as posing a threat to Japan's interests in Korea. Stiff armed in the stalled bilateral talks, feeling the time pressure as the Russian position strengthened daily, Japan demanding respect and consideration as a regional power launched an attack.

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Russian 500 pound shell bursting near the Japanese siege guns, near Port Arthur
More detailed description of photo

Importance of the War

The conflict resulted in a triumphant surprise victory for Japan which won virtually every conflict of the war, and devastated Russia's deep water navy while chewing up several Russian armies. That feeling of triumph soured drastically in Japan, leading to widespread riots when the terms of the peace treaty were announced, military and economic exhaustion of both belligerents, and the reluctant and distasteful (to the West) establishment Japan as a major world power. The war ended with the Treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by the US, which alienated the two powers and started a trend of, to the Japanese point of view, repeated insults and disrespect that culminated in Japans decision to go to war with the United States in 1941. Japan resented the settlement and felt like she had been treated like the defeated power, a hard thing for a people whose culture is so dependent upon 'face' and honor to stomach.

Popular discontent in Russia following the defeat led to the Russian Revolution of 1905, an event Tsar Nicholas II of Russia had hoped to stave off and avoid entirely by taking intransigent negotiating stances prior to coming to the table at all. The Russian position hardened farther during the days immediately preceding and during the Peace Conference itself. The war ended with mediation by the United States in the person of Theodore Roosevelt who was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for Peace in 1908. However, there was widespread riotous discontent among Japanese when peace was announced because of the lack of territorial gains; but especially at the lack of monetary indemnity (reparations to Japan). Both nations were all but bankrupt after the exhaustive war, and it is hard to fault Roosevelt for finessing the monetary and territorial demands when both parties had such diametrically conflicting expectations and preconditions. Since Roosevelt had also served as honest broker in getting both parties to the peace table, he might have been less cagey and lowered expectations during the preliminary diplomatic wrangling. However, it was a very bloody war foreshadowing World War I in many ways. This led to an erosion of good feelings towards all the western powers. According to Nobel Prize biographer Edmund Morris, Japanese feelings that the honest broker United States had mislead them since indemnity was a precondition they expected the US to support. Japan also expected that they would retain all of Sakhalin Island, but they had to give half after some Rooseveltian pressure.

The defeat of Russia was met with shock both in the West and especially across Asia. That a non-Western country could defeat an established power in such a large military conflict was particularly inspiring to various anti-colonial independence movements around the world. The worlds major powers, in the fashion of the times, looking with racist or national condescension, failed to heed the lesson of how modern technology had transformed land warfare into a deadly morass. The major powers had also unanimously embraced naval improvement programs which had the cumulative effect of making future naval battles at short to moderate ranges, as had occurred in this war, nearly as deadly as charging a machine gun. Assimilating these lesson would be bought with blood and treasure only nine years later on the muddy fields of World War I.

In the war, the Japanese army treated civilians and prisoners of war well without the brutality and atrocities that were widespread during World War II. Japanese historians think this war was a turning point of Japan and a key to understanding why Japan failed militarily and politically later. The acrimony that occurred in Japan's society went to every class and level, and shortly became the consensus within Japan that they had been treated as the defeated power during the peace conference. This feeling built up by degrees with every perceived slight and condescending act by the Western powers toward Japan for the next few decades.

Origins of the war

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, various Western countries were competing for influence, trade, and territory in East Asia as Japan strived to be a modern great power. Japan's location encouraged it to focus on Korea and northern China, putting it in competition with its neighbor, Russia. The Japanese effort to occupy Korea led to the Sino-Japanese War. Japan's subsequent defeat of China led to the Treaty of Shimonoseki (April 17, 1895) by which China abandoned its own claims to Korea, as well as ceding Taiwan and Lshunkou (often called Port Arthur). However, three Western powers (Russia, Germany and France) by the Triple Intervention of April 23, 1895 applied pressure on Japan to give up Port Arthur, and the Russians later (in 1898) negotiated a 25-year lease of the naval base with China. Meanwhile, Russian soldiers occupied much of Manchuria, and Russia competed with Japan for influence in Korea.

Japan, after failing to negotiate a favorable agreement with Russia, sent an ultimatum on February 6th, and began attacking two days later. Both sides issued declaration of war on February 10. Under international law, Japan's attack has not been considered a sneak attack, because of the ultimatum. However, it was commonly mentioned as an example of Japan's preference for surprise attack, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Port Arthur, on the Liaodong Peninsula in the south of Manchuria, had been fortified into a major naval base by the Russians. The Japanese needed to control the sea in order to fight a war on the Asian mainland, so their first military objective was to neutralize the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. On the night of February 8, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo opened the war with a surprise torpedo attack on the Russian ships at Port Arthur, badly damaging two Russian battleships. The attacks developed into the Battle of Port Arthur the next morning. A series of indecisive naval engagements followed, in which the Japanese were unable to attack the Russian fleet successfully under the land guns of the harbor and the Russians declined to leave the harbor for the open seas, especially after the death of Admiral Makarov on April 13. These engagements provided cover for a Japanese landing near Incheon in Korea, from which they occupied Seoul and then the rest of Korea. By the end of April, the Japanese army under Kuroki Itei was prepared to cross the Yalu river into Russian-occupied Manchuria.

In counterpoint to the Japanese strategy of gaining rapid victories to control Manchuria, Russian strategy focused on fighting delaying actions to gain time for reinforcements to arrive via the long Trans-Siberian railway. On May 1, the Battle of the Yalu River, in which Japanese troops stormed a Russian position after an unopposed crossing of the river, was the first major land battle of the war. Japanese troops proceeded to land at several points on the Manchurian coast, and fought a number of engagements driving the Russians back on Port Arthur. These battles, including the Battle of Nanshan on May 25, were marked by heavy Japanese losses attacking entrenched Russian positions, but the Russians remained passive and failed to counterattack.

At sea, the war was just a brutal. After the February 8 attack on Port Arthur, the Japanese attempted to deny the Russians use of the port. During the night of February 13-14, the Japanese attempted to block the entrance to Port Arthur by sinking several cement-filled steamers in the deep water channel to the port. But the steamers sank in too deep water for it to be effective. Another attempt to block the harbor entrance on the night of May 3-4, with blockships also failed. In March, the energetic Vice Admiral Makarov took command of the First Russian Pacific Squadron with the intention of making plans to break out of the Port Arthur blockaide. By then, both sides began a policy of tactical offensive minelaying by laying mines in each others ports. This was the first time in warfare that mines were used for offensive purposes. In the past, mines were used as purely defensive purposes by keeping harbors safe from invading warships. The Japanese minelaying policy was effective at restricting the Russian movement of its ships outside Port Arthur when on April 12, 1904, two Russian battleships, the flagship Petropavlosk and the Pobieda ran into a Japanese minefield off Port Arthur, both striking mines. The Petropavlosk sank within an hour, while the Pobieda had to be towed back to Port Arthur for extensive repairs. Makarov died on the Petropavlosk by choosing to go down with his ship. But the Russians soon learned the Japanese policy of offensive minelaying and decided to play the strategy too. On May 15, 1904, two Japanese battleships, the Yashima and Hatsuse were both lured into a recently layed Russian minefield off Port Arthur both striking at least two mines. The Yashima sank within minutes taking 450 sailors to their deaths, while the Hatuse sank under tow a few hours later. On June 23, a breakout attempt by the Russian squadron, now under the command of Admiral Vitgef failed. By the end of the month, Japanese artillery were already putting shells into the harbor.

Japan began a long siege of Port Arthur, which had been heavily fortified by the Russians. On August 10, 1904, the Russian fleet attempted to break out from Port Arthur and proceed to Vladivostok, but they were intercepted and defeated at the Battle of the Yellow Sea. The remnant of the Russian fleet remained in Port Arthur, where they were slowly sunk by the artillery of the besieging army. Attempts to relieve the city from the land also failed, and after the Battle of Liaoyang in late August, the Russians retreated to Shenyang. Port Arthur finally fell on January 2, 1905, after a series of brutal, high-casualty assaults.

Campaign of 1905

The Japanese army was now able to attack northward, and they drove the Russian army out of Shenyang by March.

Meanwhile, at sea, the Russians had already been preparing to reinforce their fleet the previous year by sending the Baltic Sea fleet under Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rozhdestvenski around the Cape of Good Hope to Asia. On October 21, 1904, while passing by Britain (an ally of Japan but neutral in this war), they nearly provoked a war in the Dogger Bank incident by firing on British fishing boats which they mistook for torpedo boats. The duration of the journey meant that Admiral Togo was well aware of the Baltic Fleet's progress, and he made plans to meet it before it could reach port at Vladivostok. He intercepted them in the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan, and in the Battle of Tsushima, May 27-28, 1905, the more modern Japanese fleet, numerically inferior but with superior speed and firing range, shelled the Russian fleet mercilessly, destroying all eight of their battleships.


Although Russia still had a far larger army than Japan, these successive defeats had shaken Russian confidence. Throughout 1905, Russia was rocked by the Russian Revolution of 1905, which represented a severe threat to the stability of the government. Russia elected to negotiate a peace rather than continue the war so it could concentrate on internal matters.

An offer of mediation by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt led to the Treaty of Portsmouth, N.H., on September 5, 1905. Russia ceded to Japan the southern half of Sakhalin Island, which they had possessed historically, until regaining it in 1952 under the Treaty of San Francisco following the Second World War. They signed over their 25 year leasehold rights as well to the excellent naval base at Port Arthur and the peninsula around it. Russia further agreed to evacuate Manchuria and recognize Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Japan would annex Korea in 1910 with scant protest from other powers.

This was one of the first major victories in the modern era of an Asian country over a Western one, and Japanese prestige rose greatly as they began to be considered a modern Great Power. Concurrently, Russia having lost virtually all her Eastern and Baltic fleets and slipped downward in esteem, particularly in the view of the bellicose Germany, locked in a power struggle with France over Morroco. While the Kaiser was the Tsar's cousin, Russia was France's ally, and that loss of prestige would have a significant effect on German war plans.

In the absence of Russian competition and with the distraction of European nations during World War I and the Great Depression, the Japanese military began the efforts to dominate China that would lead to the Pacific War of World War II, and this victory over a Western power began a series of events that would lead to decolonization. In Russia, this defeat led in the short term to a reform of the Russian military that would allow it to face Germany in World War I. However, the revolts at home following the war and military defeat presaged the Russian Revolution of 1917.

[All above dates are believed to be New-Style (Gregorian, not the Julian used in Tsarist Russia): for conformity, where there are two, use the one that reads 13 days "later" than the other.]

List of battles

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See also

External links


es:Guerra ruso-japonesa fr:Guerre russo-japonaise ko:러일전쟁 he:מלחמת רוסיה-יפן nl:Russisch-Japanse Oorlog ja:日露戦争 pl:Wojna rosyjsko-japońska ru:Русско-японская война fi:Venjn-Japanin sota zh:日俄战争


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