Japan Attacks Port Arthur
The Japanese declared war on the Russians of February 8th. The same day they launched a surprise attack on the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur. The Russians were never able to recover from that point on and lost the war.
Japanese and Russian interest clashed over Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese had gained control over parts of Korea in their war with China. Russia meanwhile wanted to expand its presence in the area, first of all to have an all weather port and second to counter the influence of Great Britain. The Japanese were willing to agree to a compromise which would have recognized their influence in Korea while reconizing Russian influence in Manchuria. Negotiations however did not move forward, the Russians believed that the Japanese would agree to the Russian terms complying with what the Russians believed was their superior military power. The Russians had misjudged the Japanese. Once they had concluded that the Russian negotiations were only designed to delay they decided to attack the Russians. On February 8th they formally declared war on the Russians. Four hours before they delivered their declaration of war the Japanese navy staged a surprise attack on the Russian Fleet in Port Arthur. The attack succeeded in damaging a significant portion of the fleet.
The Japanese then went on to blockading the port. They soon landed troops and surrounded the city. After a long siege and successful Japanese attacks the Russians surrendered the city on January 2, 1905.
The Russo-Japanese War was a war between the Japanese Empire and the Russian Empire. It started in 1904 and ended in 1905. The Japanese won the war, and the Russians lost.
The war happened because the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire disagreed over who should get parts of Manchuria and Korea. It was fought mostly on the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden, the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea. The politics of the two countries in the war were very complicated, but both wanted to gain land and economic benefits.
The Chinese Empire of the Qing Dynasty was large but weak, and it was Qing land and possessions they fought over. For example Korea was under Qing rule, but was seized by Japan. The Russians wanted a 'warm-water port' on the Pacific Ocean for their navy and trade. The harbour at Vladivostok freezes over in the winter, but Port Arthur (now called the Liaodong Peninsula in China) can be used all the time. Russia had already rented the port from the Qing and had got their permission to build a Trans-Siberian railway from St Petersburg to Port Arthur.
Just Ask Russia: Pearl Harbor Wasn’t Japan’s First Sneak Attack
Here's What You Need to Remember: There was much finger-pointing after Pearl Harbor about the unpreparedness of the Pearl Harbor defenses, or how much early warning the U.S. had from breaking Japanese codes. Just as Russia might not have anticipated a destroyer attack on a fortified port, perhaps the U.S. military could be forgiven for not anticipating an unprecedented aerial tsunami from six aircraft carriers and four hundred planes.
At midnight the Russian fleet slept.
A few minutes after the clock struck 12 a.m. on February 9, 1904, Tsarist Russia's Pacific squadron peacefully bobbed at anchor at the Russian naval base nestled in the Manchurian town of Port Arthur. Ashore, the mood that night was festive as the garrison's army and naval officers availed themselves of refreshments at a birthday party for the admiral's wife.
Soon their revelry was disturbed by flashes in the night and the dull thud of torpedoes slamming into metal hulls. Some thought it was fireworks in honor of the admiral's wife. In reality, it was Japan announcing the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War with a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.
The drunken partygoers should not have been so surprised. Russia and Japan had long been on a collision course over who would control the plentiful resources of Manchuria, and ultimately the Far East as well. With the new Trans-Siberian Railroad linking Moscow to the Siberian port of Vladivostok, and having forced a feeble China to cede Port Arthur in 1895, Russia had asserted its ambitions to become the dominant power in the region.
Unfortunately, Japan had the same idea. Just fifty years before, the samurai had brandished their swords in impotent frustration at the American warships that dared to break Japan's feudal isolation by sailing into Tokyo Bay. But with astounding determination and energy, Japan had built a modern army and navy powerful enough to defeat the ailing Chinese Empire in 1894-95.
Could the bear and the tiger coexist? Negotiations had been underway since 1903 between St. Petersburg and Tokyo, with Japan offering to recognize Russian control of Manchuria if Russia recognized Japan's control of Korea. But Russia dismissed the Japanese as "monkeys" that merely aped their Western betters. If Japan dared attack, the Tsar's soldiers and sailors would smash them. Why should His Majesty deign to give these simians anything?
Disputes over who should dominate East Asia? Westerners dismissing Asian military prowess? Negotiations at an impasse? If you're an American, this should ring a bell.
As in 1941, Japanese leaders concluded that time was not on their side. Though the Tsarist empire was a textbook case of inefficiency, the Russian colossus was steadily building up its forces in the Far East. Deciding it was now or never, Japan opted to resolve the situation in its own inimitable way. It dispatched a squadron to strike Port Arthur, which based a formidable force that included seven early battleships and six cruisers. As Admiral Yamamoto did thirty-seven years later against Hawaii, the brilliant Japanese commander Admiral Togo took a bold gamble by sailing into the teeth of a Russian fortress protected by powerful coastal artillery.
In 1941, the diminutive killer of battleships was the airplane. In 1904, it was newfangled steam-propelled torpedoes launched by destroyers. Rather than risking his capital ships, Togo opted to send in ten destroyers to make a massed night torpedo attack against the anchored Russian vessels. At 10:30 p.m. on February 8th, the Japanese destroyers ran into a Russian ship, which fled to raise the alarm. But it was too late. At about 12:30 a.m., the Japanese flotilla launched a salvo of sixteen torpedoes. Only three hit their target, damaging the battleships Retvizan and Tsarevich, as well as the cruiser Pallada.
Three hours later, Tsar Nicholas II received Japan's declaration of war.
If battles were judged strictly by material results, the Japanese strike was not decisive. No ships were sunk, most of the Russian vessels were left intact, and when they sailed out of harbor later that day, an inconclusive skirmish ensued that damaged several ships on both sides before the Japanese withdrew.
Yet as Napoleon had said a century before, morale is three times more important than material. There are times when nations, like people, just start off on the wrong foot and never regain their balance. Such was Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, a giant that always seemed one step behind its opponent, crippled by cautious and plodding commanders fumbling to respond to Japanese moves instead of imposing their own will on the battlefield.
The opening act of the drama was the surprise attack on Port Arthur, which shocked Russia and impressed the world. "The Japanese Navy has opened the war by an act of daring which is destined to take a place of honor in naval annals," declared the Times of London, proud of a Japanese fleet that was the protege after the Royal Navy (which itself had sailed into Copenhagen in 1807 to destroy or capture the Danish Navy). The curtain came down on Russia on May 27, 1905, in the Straits of Tsushima between Japan and Korea: the Tsar's main battlefleet, which had sailed halfway around the world in an epic voyage from Europe to Asia, was demolished by the Japanese Navy. With Russia unable to sever the maritime lifeline bringing supplies and troops from Japan to Manchuria, the Japanese army was able to defeat the Russian field army and capture Port Arthur in January 1905 after a bloody siege. From 1905 to 1945, it would be Japan—not Russia—that was the dynamic, aggressive power in Asia.
The Russo-Japanese War was a stain on Russian military history, a humiliation that fatally weakened the Tsar's prestige. How ironic that the Bolshevik path to power was paved by Japanese bayonets. But if there is embarrassment for the surprise attack at Port Arthur, it isn't Russian. The Tsar's military was lax, but what Westerner in 1904 would have believed that mere Asians could—or would dare—to launch such an audacious assault on a major Western power?
Yet what was America's excuse at dawn on December 7, 1941? That Japan would strike first if cornered had been made clear thirty-seven years earlier. That it could strike with daring and skill had also been demonstrated. And most of all, that Japan would attack before notifying its enemies that it had declared war, should have been evident.
There was much finger-pointing after Pearl Harbor about the unpreparedness of the Pearl Harbor defenses, or how much early warning the U.S. had from breaking Japanese codes. Just as Russia might not have anticipated a destroyer attack on a fortified port, perhaps the U.S. military could be forgiven for not anticipating an unprecedented aerial tsunami from six aircraft carriers and four hundred planes.
Yet as the burning U.S. battleships slowly slipped beneath the waves, perhaps some white-haired ex-sailor of the Tsar's Navy rose from his rocking chair and muttered, "We told you so."
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader interest.
1904-5 The Russo-Japanese War: Japan Shatters Russia’s Navy and Global Perceptions
While Japan is today known as a leading nation in terms of technology, this was not the case in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. After a long period of international isolation, Japan finally opened itself up to the world and realized that they were behind the times, still using as they were a large amount of outdated technology.
The Japanese now had the opportunity to start fresh, by opening up to the world.
They took full advantage of the various western nations to shop around for the best technologies and especially the best military hardware. The Japanese also sent advisors to learn army tactics and training methods from the Prussians and other European powers. Perhaps the most important result of this policy was the wholesale imitation of the British navy. The new emphasis on training was taken to heart by the new and growing Japanese navy and crews drilled constantly on their newly constructed modern naval fleet.
Battleships were built with the latest technologies including better reinforcements for the hulls and more accurate targeting systems. Though it may sound trivial, many of the larger Japanese guns had omnidirectional reloading meaning they could continue to point in any direction and continue firing. Many other ships built just prior to this point had to face their guns a particular direction meaning an attack had to halt while the turret turned and after reloading would have to reacquire a target.
Russia was an established world power by the early 1900s and was confident when tensions with Japan broke into an all-out war over ownership of the Korean Peninsula. Japan had been seen as an odd and backward country, and though they might have some new technology they were assumed to have little ability fighting modern wars.
The Russians had control of Port Arthur to the West of the Korean Peninsula as well as the port at Vladivostok to the northeast. The Japanese targeted the more isolated Port Arthur by land and sea. One of the first engagements of the war was a surprise Japanese torpedo attack against the Russian ships in the harbor, causing minor damage, but greatly lowering Russian morale. Russian pride was further damaged on land as the Japanese army quickly swarmed through Korea, overwhelming Russian forces.
The Russian navy tried and failed to break the naval blockade, actually losing a battleship and their commander Stepan Makarov, to a mine. Too demoralized to go on the offensive, the ships sat as the Japanese army pushed to an elevated position just outside of Port Arthur. From here the Japanese were able to land artillery that had a longer range than the Russian battleships and shells soon poured into the port.
Unique unreproducible photos 1904-1905 g .: From Gatchina Japanese Front ( Russian-Japanese War ) in Manchuria to fight with the Japanese sent 23th Artillery Brigade. Winter 1904 year. At the request of a photojournalist Victor Bulla Gunners picturesquely lined up for the front image. A curious detail: the door to the car flaunts five-pointed star with a two-headed imperial eagle in the center.
The Russian Navy suffered a huge amount of damage in an unprecedented fashion, under fire from land-based guns. Meanwhile, the Japanese had developed a system of tunneling under the land fortifications and setting off massive bombs to collapse the Russian positions. These explosions were massive and demoralizing as they almost always led to a successful Japanese offensive. The Russian garrison would soon surrender. The Japanese had paid a high price for the victory as the constant pushing for elevated positions proved costly in terms of casualties, but their strategic gain was worth it as now only Vladivostok remained for Russia.
The land armies had now grown in size as Russian reinforcements brought their core force up to 340,000 troops and 800 pieces of artillery while the now consolidated Japanese forces numbered 280,000 troops and 500 pieces of artillery. The two met outside the Chinese town of Mukden.
Port Arthur after the surrender. the shallow bay meant that many ships were still easily visible after being “sunk”.
The Russians had a larger army, but the Japanese had the now veteran 3 rd army, who were now finished with the attack and siege of Port Arthur. Japanese general Oyama’s plan was to attack in a crescent formation with emphasis on the flanks while sending the 3 rd army in a wide flanking attack. His plan worked as the battle unfolded in late February the two sides clashed in the largest land battle since the Battle of Leipzig.
The wide flanking of the 3 rd army made the Russian commander, Alexei Kuropatkin, respond by taking several divisions of troops to head off the attack. This only scattered and confused the Russian army and it slowly collapsed over weeks of fighting while the Japanese forces surrounded them more completely each day. By the 9 th of March 1905, the Russian commander realized all hope was lost and attempted a retreat. Seeing this the Japanese were given orders to pursue and destroy. The Russians fled so quickly that nearly all of their 800 artillery pieces, were left behind along with many of their wounded and supplies.
Russians trying to hold off the relentless Japanese assault. Many Japanese were killed, but they ultimately achieved the tactical and strategic victory.
The battle of Mukden was a complete Japanese victory, but it was won at a high cost. 75,000 casualties were sustained by the Japanese with 85,000 casualties for the Russians. The Russians were defeated, even though they had a slightly larger army, but they had fewer artillery pieces and was low on supplies. The outcome of the battle was an overwhelming strategic victory for the Japanese.
The Russian Baltic Fleet – now referred to as the Second Pacific Squadron – were quickly approaching the Tsushima Straits just south of Korea. They had learned of the fall of Port Arthur while around Madagascar and the men were increasingly demoralized. It was decided that the only real move was to head to Vladivostok. The Japanese Admiral Togo knew this and had his navy prepared to intercept them in the straits.
On May 27 th , the two forces met. The Russians had eight full battleships, some relatively new and some slightly dated. They had a moderate number of coastal battleships, cruisers, and other support ships. The Japanese had only four battleships, but many more cruisers and a several dozen light torpedo boats. Togo achieved an early, though imperfect, “crossing the T” action, cutting across the path of the Russian ship column.
As Togo’s ships crossed in front of Zinovy Rozhestvensky’s ships, Togo made the bold decision to abruptly turn his column around to directly engage his ships. This turning maneuver placed almost every one of Togo’s ships in a vulnerable position during the turn, but the Russian crews were not efficient enough to make the most of the opportunity. Once the turns were complete the Japanese engaged with a ferocity that overwhelmed the Russians.
Russian soldiers in trenches.
A combination of Japanese training and their earlier experiences against the other Russian navy proved invaluable during the battle. The Russian ships were torn apart and some caught fire quite easily as the Japanese used explosive shells and several Russian ships had coal or remnants of the coal piles on their decks. One sailor remarked that he saw metal plates catch fire all of their own.
The Russian admiral was severely wounded and the navy quickly fragmented into several groups, relentlessly pursued by the Japanese. After nightfall, the Japanese organized a three-hour long attack by their torpedo boats. The ferocity and zeal of the attack were so great that some of the torpedo boats collided with larger Russian vessels during the night as they tried to get into the fight. This and some Russian retaliation resulted in the only Japanese losses of the battle.
One of the few Russian cruises to survive the battle, shown with a large hole in the hull.
Most of the war up to this point was a series of Japanese strategic victories gained at a high cost. The battle of Tsushima cost relatively little for the Japanese as they sustained roughly 500 dead and wounded, compared to 10,000 Russian killed or captured. Nearly all of the Russian ships were sunk or captured. It was a victory on the scale of Trafalgar and was a humiliating defeat for the Russians, who were soon forced to a peace treaty.
Why Japan went to war
In Western eyes, World War II in Asia is often viewed as contest between the Empire of Japan and the “ABCD” forces of America, Britain, China, and the Dutch. More often still, the war is simplified further into a clash between Japan and the United States.
The way the Pacific phase of the war began – with the Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 – and ended – with the American firebombing and atomic bombings in the spring/summer 1945 – has accentuated the Japan-US aspect of the fighting. That accent has been massively amplified by Hollywood.
This is distorted. To be sure, the Japanese and the Americans battled to dominate the Western Pacific for four and a half years of staggering destruction. But bilateral animosity had not appeared out of nowhere in December 1941.
Many in Japan bristled at racially exclusivist, nativist laws passed in the US targeting people of Asian descent. They were particularly hurt by 1907 and 1924 acts that limited Asian immigration. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 was read by many in Japan as more of the same – an Asian nation excluded from the great powers on the basis of race.
When president Franklin Roosevelt attempted to strangle Japan economically with embargoes and asset freezes, Japan had finally had enough. From Tokyo’s perspective, it was time to drive the Anglo-Europeans from Asia.
It was because of Japan’s war actions in China that Roosevelt slipped an economic noose around Tokyo’s neck. A key reason Tokyo was fighting in China was to defend its Manchurian possessions. And it held those possessions because of the USSR.
The real rivalry
The longer rivalry in Asia was, or is, between Japan and Russia. Long before Japan’s military thought about fighting the US, it was already fighting Russia. From the beginning of Russo-Japanese interaction, the relationship has been wary at best, and usually adversarial.
The Treaty of Shimoda, formalizing bilateral relations, was signed in 1855, less than a year after the Convention of Kanagawa established diplomatic relations between Japan and the US. As the Russian Empire pushed deeper into Siberia and Manchuria and began meddling in Korea, where Japan was doing the same thing, Japan and Russia came to blows in 1904.
The Russo-Japanese War is best remembered for a naval engagement, the Battle of Tsushima, in which Admiral Togo Heihachiro’s Japanese Combined Fleet won a decisive victory over the Russian Baltic Fleet in May 1905. On land, the war was fought mostly in Manchuria, Korea, and the Liaodong Peninsula, giving rise to a massive land engagement in Manchuria, in March 1905 – nearly 50 years to the day after the signing of the Treaty of Shimoda.
The land fighting was also in large part about access to the sea. Russia coveted Port Arthur (today, Dalian), the only perennially ice-free Pacific port the czar’s navy had any hopes of acquiring. However, Japan had won Port Arthur after Japan’s defeat of the decrepit Qing Dynasty nine years earlier.
In the event, the Americans saved Japan in 1905. The war on the mainland was grinding down into attrition, but neither side had the will or capital to win outright. President Theodore Roosevelt invited delegations from both empires to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August, allowing Japan to claim victory. It was also at Portsmouth that Japan retained title to the southern half of the long Siberian island of Sakhalin, which Japan had seized in its entirety during the fighting.
Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for the treaty between the two rivals, but the end of the Russo-Japanese War merely paused open hostilities. And the victory proved pyrrhic for Japan. Its defeat of Czar Nicholas II’s forces sealed the fate of the Russian Empire, and from its shell arose something infinitely more menacing.
An abortive revolution in 1905 nearly toppled the czar’s government, but it was World War I that finished what Admiral Togo had inadvertently started. With help from Japanese agents who sneaked into Russia to foment anti-czarist revolt, the hard-left opposition eventually brought down the Russian Empire. The new czar, Lenin, hastily cut Russia’s losses at the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and set about consolidating ideological rule over some 170 million Russians.
Seeing opportunity in Russia’s chaotic state, the Japanese, as members of the victorious World War I Allies, participated in the “Siberian Intervention” in 1918. This was ostensibly to rescue of a detachment of Czech soldiers from behind enemy lines during the Russian Civil War between the Bolsheviks (“Reds”) and Loyalists (“Whites”).
In reality, for Japan, the intervention was a dry run for a bigger role in the Far East. By weakening Russia further, Japan hoped to secure the vast territory and natural riches of Manchuria.
A rich prize
The dominance of Manchuria and the wider Far East shaped the strategic horizons of Japan’s military. Sensing with growing alarm the rise of international communism, in 1925 the Japanese government passed the Peace Preservation Law, which allowed Japan to purge from society communists plotting to overthrow the emperor. Keeping the Russians at bay in Siberia through the buffer state of Manchuria was the external arm of this anti-communist strategy.
In 1928, the Japanese military’s assassination of warlord Zhang Zuolin, who controlled Manchuria, presaged an even greater role for Japan. In 1931, a Japanese-staged bomb attack designed to grant the pretext for a full-scale invasion of Manchuria took place at Mukden.
In 1932, the state of “Manchukuo” was set up under Aisin Gioro Puyi, the last Qing emperor whom the Japanese installed as, in essence, a replacement for Zhang Zuolin and a way to work around Zhang’s intractable son, Zhang Xueliang, and gain control of Manchuria. The territory became a kind of “reverse iron curtain” against the Soviet Union for Japan.
In 1937, open warfare between Japan and China proper broke out after the “Marco Polo Bridge” incident outside Beijing. Resources deployed to defend Manchuria from the Soviets were siphoned off as Japan became entangled in war with China. The quagmire in China – into which the Soviets, working through the Comintern, were only too happy to draw Japanese forces – massively distracted Tokyo from its rivalry with the Soviet Union.
But Japan was soon reminded that its most dangerous enemy in Asia was not China.
At Nomonhan/Khalkhin Gol in 1939, the Soviets won partial revenge on Japan for 1905 by securing a major victory on the border between Mongolia and Manchuria. After securing this victory, the Soviets were able to turn their full attention to the war brewing in the west.
Nomonhan was a fateful turning point for another reason, too.
The southward policy
Japan’s navy was one of the mightiest on the seas and had proved itself against both Russia and China. With Japan’s army bogged down on the mainland, the “advance north” stratagem, according to which Japan would throw its main power against the Soviets in Manchuria and Siberia, gave way to the “advance south” approach, according to which Japan would attack the European and American colonies in Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma and eventually, India.
This massive expansion of the war might look like a strategy of biting off far more than could be chewed. But seen holistically, these actions make sense. Japan had staved off encroachment by Europeans and Americans in its own rise to power it now felt compelled to overthrow white imperialism in the Far East.
Many Japanese called for a “pan-Asianism” to drive out the usurpers and interlopers who had held sway in Asia for centuries. It was a movement loaded with historical significance.
To be sure, there was money involved. The riches of the East, which had drawn the Europeans in, remained for the new Japanese power to extract and exploit. Manifest Destiny, yes, but also crude oil and rubber and jute and sugar cane brought Yamato deeper into Asia.
Hoping to obviate a reprisal from the Americans, the Japanese struck a surprise blow at the US air and naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. Meanwhile, in a brilliant series of combined operations, Tokyo – which already controlled French Indochina – stormed into the Dutch and British Southeast Asia colonies.
Japan inflicted the most humiliating defeat the British had suffered in their history at Singapore. But while Japan took control of the vast natural wealth of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya, the British retreated into Burma. That would become a battlescape for the remainder of the war as the British and their Indian subjects fought back, soon assisted by the Chinese and Americans.
A vast new empire – stretching from Papua New Guinea, through the vast Pacific, to all of Southeast Asia bar Thailand, most of southern China, Manchuria and the home islands – now spread across the maps.
But with the United States in the war and fighting back from across the vast Pacific, Japan’s ultimate fate was sealed.
Stalin looks east
The Soviets did not fight in the Pacific theater.
Thanks to the machinations of Soviet spies – in particular the group working under Richard Sorge, the double agent who was so close to the Germans in Japan that he was sleeping with the German ambassador’s wife and plying her husband for information over drinks – the Kremlin knew Japan was going to follow the southern route and not attack them.
Japan and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact in 1941. The Red Army was thereby free to meet Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, which came storming in from the west after the Germans abrogated their own neutrality agreement with the Soviets and launched “Operation Barbarossa.”
The Soviets’ not having to defend Siberia from Japan was a fatal development for the Third Reich. The Soviets, not the Western Allies, stopped Hitler. Josef Stalin rightly judged the Nazis to be the main enemy, so had secured his far eastern flank doubly: via treaty of non-aggression and by contributing to the Pacific War, courtesy of communist spies surrounding Roosevelt.
By 1943, Stalin began looking back east. At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, the Soviets agreed to join the war against Japan three months after the demise of the Nazis. In return, Stalin would get back the southern half of Sakhalin and the Kuriles.
Naively, the Japanese, had been hoping the Soviets would broker a peace deal. Stalin, as Roosevelt had done, babied the Japanese along.
The USSR joined the war against Japan three months and one day – August 9, 1945 – after Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8. August 9 was also the day that the second of two atomic bombs was dropped on a virtually defenseless Japanese civilian population.
In the crucible of the closing days of World War II, we can see virtually all the elements which long constituted the Russo-Japanese rivalry. That rivalry, which started under the banners of imperialism, then switched to communism in both the Soviet Union and China, metastasized into most of the ongoing tensions plaguing East Asia to this day.
One must view the sudden, massive “blitzkrieg” attack by the Soviets into Manchuria in the context of Soviet realities and anticipations. The Soviets deployed 1.6 million bayonets, backed by massive armor and air assets, against Japan. The Kremlin moved so decisively as it feared that Japan would surrender before the Soviets could join the fight, and could thus lose the spoils.
There was also a challenge to Moscow rising in China. The Soviets were keenly aware of Mao Zedong’s “Sinification of Marxism” campaign and his routing of the “28 Bolsheviks” as part of the internal war in the party between the international faction devoted to the Comintern and the nativist faction determined to follow the Maoist, China-first line.
In the event, however, it was Mao who won Manchuria. Using his foothold in North China and Manchuria, Mao outflanked the Nationalists and won the Chinese civil war in 1949. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan, formerly part of the Japanese Empire.
As for other parts of the pre-1941 Japanese Empire, the Russians got Sakhalin and control of half of Korea.
And there was another, hidden Soviet victory – the infiltration of Japanese institutions. Japan was flooded with local communists after World War II. First, the members of the Japan Communist Party were released from prison by the Americans in October of 1945.
Next, the Siberian Detainees, more than a million soldiers and civilians captured by the Soviets and interned in concentration camps, returned. The Siberian Detainees, many brainwashed, exercised enormous ideological control over postwar Japanese thinking.
Then and now
Today, ex-enemy America is Japan’s chief ally and protector. Japan’s former European foes (the French and Dutch) and allies (Germany and Italy), united under the EU, are on-side too, albeit via a free-trade agreement, not an alliance. Former wartime enemies Australia, India and the UK all appear to be upgrading military cooperation with Japan, and Tokyo and London are negotiating an FTA.
Russia continues to view Japan as its main rival in the Far East. President Vladimir Putin has been stringing along negotiations over the Northern Islands that Japan claims and Russia occupies, with minimal progress.
Russia has no more territory to gain in the Far East, but it does have one final legacy from World War II to clear up – the elimination of the Americans from Russia’s Pacific flank and the end, finally, to the challenge to the great Russian empire from Japan.
The Kremlin looks unlikely to be able to do that. Instead, a vast new communist state has eclipsed Russia. Today, the rising power of China is casting ever longer shadows over the land of the rising sun and the region as a whole.
Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.
Campaign of 1905 [ edit | edit source ]
Retreat of Russian soldiers after the Battle of Mukden.
With the fall of Port Arthur, the Japanese 3rd army was now able to continue northward and reinforce positions south of Russian-held Mukden. With the onset of the severe Manchurian winter, there had been no major land engagements since the Battle of Shaho the previous year. The two sides camped opposite each other along 60 to 70 miles (110 km) of front lines, south of Mukden.
Battle of Sandepu [ edit | edit source ]
The Russian Second Army under General Oskar Gripenberg, between 25 and 29 January, attacked the Japanese left flank near the town of Sandepu, almost breaking through. This caught the Japanese by surprise. However, without support from other Russian units the attack stalled, Gripenberg was ordered to halt by Kuropatkin and the battle was inconclusive. The Japanese knew that they needed to destroy the Russian army in Manchuria before Russian reinforcements arrived via the Trans-Siberian railroad.
Battle of Mukden [ edit | edit source ]
An illustration of a Japanese assault during the Battle of Mukden.
The Battle of Mukden commenced on 20 February 1905. In the following days Japanese forces proceeded to assault the right and left flanks of Russian forces surrounding Mukden, along a 50-mile (80 km) front. Approximately half a million men were involved in the fighting. Both sides were well entrenched and were backed by hundreds of artillery pieces. After days of harsh fighting, added pressure from the flanks forced both ends of the Russian defensive line to curve backwards. Seeing they were about to be encircled, the Russians began a general retreat, fighting a series of fierce rearguard actions, which soon deteriorated in the confusion and collapse of Russian forces. On 10 March 1905 after three weeks of fighting, General Kuropatkin decided to withdraw to the north of Mukden. The Russians lost 90,000 men in the battle.
The retreating Russian Manchurian Army formations disbanded as fighting units, but the Japanese failed to destroy them completely. The Japanese themselves had suffered large casualties and were in no condition to pursue. Although the battle of Mukden was a major defeat for the Russians and was the most decisive land battle ever fought by the Japanese, the final victory still depended on the navy.
Battle of Tsushima [ edit | edit source ]
The Russian Second Pacific Squadron (the renamed Baltic Fleet) sailed 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) to relieve Port Arthur. The demoralizing news that Port Arthur had fallen reached the fleet while it was still at Madagascar. Admiral Rozhestvensky's only hope now was to reach the port of Vladivostok. There were three routes to Vladivostok, with the shortest and most direct passing through Tsushima Straits between Korea and Japan. However, this was also the most dangerous route as it passed between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese naval bases in Korea.
Admiral Togo was aware of Russian progress and understood that, with the fall of Port Arthur, the Second and Third Pacific Squadrons would try to reach the only other Russian port in the Far East, Vladivostok. Battle plans were laid down and ships were repaired and refitted to intercept the Russian fleet.
The Japanese Combined Fleet, which had originally consisted of six battleships, was now down to four (two had been lost to mines), but still retained its cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats. The Russian Second Pacific Squadron contained eight battleships, including four new battleships of the Borodino class, as well as cruisers, destroyers and other auxiliaries for a total of 38 ships.
By the end of May the Second Pacific Squadron was on the last leg of its journey to Vladivostok, taking the shorter, riskier route between Korea and Japan, and travelling at night to avoid discovery. Unfortunately for the Russians, while in compliance with the rules of war, the two trailing hospital ships had continued to burn their lights, ⎮] which were spotted by the Japanese armed merchant cruiser Shinano Maru. Wireless communication was used to inform Togo's headquarters, where the Combined Fleet was immediately ordered to sortie. ⎯] Still receiving naval intelligence from scouting forces, the Japanese were able to position their fleet so that they would "cross the T" ⎰] of the Russian fleet. The Japanese engaged battle in the Tsushima Straits on 27–28 May 1905. The Russian fleet was virtually annihilated, losing eight battleships, numerous smaller vessels, and more than 5,000 men, while the Japanese lost three torpedo boats and 116 men. Only three Russian vessels escaped to Vladivostok. After the Battle of Tsushima, the Japanese army occupied the entire chain of the Sakhalin Islands to force the Russians to sue for peace.
Military attachés and observers [ edit | edit source ]
Japanese General Kuroki and his staff, including foreign officers and war correspondents after the Battle of Shaho (1904).
Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Most were able to report on events from the perspective of "embedded" positions within the land and naval forces of both Russia and Japan. These military attachés and other observers prepared first-hand accounts of the war and analytical papers. In-depth observer narratives of the war and more narrowly focused professional journal articles were written soon after the war and these post-war reports conclusively illustrated the battlefield destructiveness of this conflict. This was the first time the tactics of entrenched positions for infantry defended with machine guns and artillery became vitally important, and both were dominant factors in World War I. Though entrenched positions were a significant part of both the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War due to the advent of breech loading rifles, the lessons learned regarding high casualty counts were not taken into account in World War I. From a 21st-century perspective, it is now apparent that tactical lessons available to observer nations were disregarded in preparations for war in Europe, and during the course of World War I. ⎱]
In 1904–1905, Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton was the military attaché of the British Indian Army serving with the Japanese army in Manchuria. Amongst the several military attachés from Western countries, he was the first to arrive in Japan after the start of the war. ⎲] As the earliest, he would be recognized as the dean of multi-national attachés and observers in this conflict but he was out-ranked by a soldier who would become a better known figure, British Field Marshal William Gustavus Nicholson, 1st Baron Nicholson, later to become Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
How Russian Defeat During the Siege of Port Arthur by Imperial Japan Changed the World
Key point: Russia's loss was the first time an Asian power completely beat a European country in war.
On the chilly night of February 8, 1904, the Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific Squadron lay peacefully at anchor just outside Port Arthur’s main harbor. Part fortress, part naval base, Port Arthur was located at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula in southern China. With the Yellow Sea to the east and the Bohai Sea to the west, it commanded the approaches to Peking (Beijing), China’s ancient capital. Port Arthur also protected Russian interests in the region, particularly its claim to mineral-rich Manchuria.
Japan also coveted Manchuria, just as it had designs on neighboring Korea. The two rival empires were on a collision course, and half-heated attempts to resolve their differences only seemed to accelerate the headlong rush to war. In early 1904, Port Arthur received word that Japan had broken off diplomatic relations, but the news scarcely lifted an eyebrow. Who would dare to attack the great fortress, a bastion of Holy Mother Russia?
Japanese Sneak Attack on Port Arthur
Seven Russian battleships were riding at anchor, including the flagship Petropavlovsk, a 12,000-ton vessel that mounted four 12-inch and 12 6-inch guns. No less than six cruisers also were on hand, along with the transport ship Angara. The cruisers Pallada and Askold probed the ocean darkness with their searchlights, a precaution against surprise attack. Vice Admiral Oskar Victorovitch Stark, the fleet commander, had ordered the searchlights utilized to guard the approaches to the Russian ships. He also commanded that each vessel’s torpedo nets be raised, but some of the ships ignored the order. Most of the crews were ill-trained, and many of the officers were arrogant aristocrats more interested in shore leave than the overall welfare of their men.
At 11:50 pm, 10 Japanese ships from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Destroyer Flotillas suddenly appeared out of the blackness and launched a series of torpedoes at the Russian ships. Ironically, the Russian searchlights had found the Japanese ships moments before the attack began. The Japanese held their breath as long fingers of light illuminated their destroyers for a few seconds before moving on. No alarm was raised, so a relieved Captain Asai Shojiro ordered his destroyers to launch their torpedoes at once. The Russian sailors on searchlight duty apparently had mistaken the Japanese ships for returning Russian patrol vessels. There had been no formal declaration of war between the two countries, and surprise was complete.
When the night attack was over, three of Russia’s proudest ships were damaged. Pallada, Retvizan, and Tsarevitch were crippled the latter’s bulkhead was shattered and her forward compartment flooded. Ironically, only three of the 16 Japanese torpedoes fired that night found their mark the rest either missed or malfunctioned. It didn’t matter. Japan had struck first, a psychological blow that put the Russians badly off-kilter in the opening months of the conflict.
There were sound strategic reasons why the Japanese wanted Port Arthur. First and foremost, they hoped to wipe out what they considered a national dishonor. In 1894-1895, a newly modernized Japan had fought a war against the decaying Chinese empire. It was an easy victory, and the triumphant Japanese forced the Chinese to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The pact gave Japan the Liaodong Peninsula and allowed it to occupy Korea, at the time still a Chinese vassal state. One of the victors’ first acts was to land at Port Arthur, and as soon as Japanese troops were ashore they massacred the Chinese garrison. As many as 2,000 Chinese were put to the sword, a figure that included women and children.
The Gibraltar of the East
Russia viewed the events with a mixture of jealousy and alarm. Czar Nicholas II and his ministers felt that China’s decline offered new opportunities for Russian expansion in the Far East. In the wake of the Boxer Rebellion, the various European powers were scrambling to grab choice bits of the Chinese mainland, and it was natural for Russia to stake its own claim. Manchuria was a bleak land of frigid wastes and barren hills, but underneath the windswept surface lay enormous deposits of coal, iron, and copper.
For the Russians, the real prize was Port Arthur and the Liaodong Peninsula. The hills surrounding Port Arthur shielded its harbor from the worst effects of the freezing blasts of winter wind that barreled in from the Arctic, keeping its port facilities ice free all year round. Vladivostok, the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, was some 1,220 miles to the north, and its harbor was frozen solid for at least three months of the year. Accordingly, Russia joined with Germany and France to force Japan to relinquish control of the Liaodong Peninsula and return it to China. Japan yielded grudgingly to the so-called Tripartite Intervention, but the subsequent loss of face was hard to bear. Tokyo would bide its time, gather strength, and win back what had been “stolen” from Japan.
Once Japan was ejected from the region, Russia lost no time in strong-arming the Chinese into a new series of concessions. Peking agreed to a 25-year lease of Port Arthur and a rail line through Manchuria. A rail spur was also constructed that linked Port Arthur to the Trans-Siberian railhead at Harbin. Russian engineers worked hard to strengthen Port Arthur’s defenses. The goal was to make the town the Gibraltar of the East. Russia’s desire to have a warm water port, a dream that dated back as far as Peter the Great, seemed at last fulfilled.
A Fortress and a Naval Base
By 1904, Port Arthur was one of the most heavily fortified places on earth, a position that most observers thought was impregnable. It was named after Lieutenant William C. Arthur of the British Royal Navy, who sheltered there in 1860 during a raging typhoon. He described the harbor in great detail, and before long people started calling the place Port Arthur in honor of the intrepid Englishman. Port Arthur in some respects was not one city but two: an Old Town and an embryonic New Town. Old Town’s narrow, unpaved streets were lined with dilapidated warehouses, shabby hotels, and poorly built administrative and residential buildings. By contrast, New Town boasted broad tree-lined avenues and modern buildings—a visual declaration that Russia was there to stay.
When all was said and done, Port Arthur was both a fortress and a naval base. In the East Basin of the harbor were docks, machine shops, fuel depots, and ammunition stockpiles. The Japanese would find Port Arthur a tough nut to crack. The first line of defense was a series of fortified hills that rose like a giant’s backbone against the slate gray skies. They ran in a great semicircle some 20 miles through the brownish-gray landscape, bristling with 6-inch guns and Maxim machine guns. Gaps between the forts were filled with connecting trenches and covered ways, and good roads assured an easy passage for men, guns, ammunition, and supplies.
Among the more prominent forts were Little Orphan Hill and Big Orphan Hill to the east and 203 Meter Hill, 174 Meter Hill, and False Hill to the west. Thick tangles of barbed wire were strung on the precipitous slopes, and wherever possible natural features were incorporated into the design. Big Orphan and Little Orphan Hills were steep, and the Russians had purposely dammed the Tai River to provide a natural moat at their bases. The Russians also made good use of old Chinese fortifications that once had sheltered and protected Old Town. Most prominent was the Chinese Wall, a 10-foot-high mud and brick structure that snaked its way through the western outskirts of Port Arthur. It was protected from artillery fire and featured a covered way that could be used for both shelter and communication purposes.
“Port Arthur Will be My Tomb!”
In the weeks before the siege, Maj. Gen. Roman Kondratenko and his 8th Siberian Rifles were assigned the task of strengthening the port’s defenses. Hundreds of Chinese supplemented the work force, digging into the hard earth and carting away basketfuls of soil. There was a shortage of concrete and barbed wire, so the Russians improvised with telegraph line. Kondratenko’s men also planted land mines and laid new telephone lines for better communications and fire control. Approaches to the fortifications were sown with fiendishly ingenious booby traps such as nail boards, wooden planks that bristled with a carpet of 5-inch nails, points facing outward. Since Japanese troops often wore straw sandals, the nail boards would prove particularly effective. The Russians also built trenches in the sides of steep hills and roofed them with timber supports. Once covered with earth and boulders, they seemed part of the hill’s natural slop e. Loopholes and vision slits allowed defenders in the trenches to fire down upon advancing attackers and roll down hand grenades.
Japanese attack Port Arthur, starting Russo-Japanese War
On February 8, 1904, just before midnight, Japanese destroyers entered the harbor of Port Arthur (now Lü-shun, China). Soon after, they unleashed torpedoes against Russian ships in a surprise attack that began the Russo-Japanese War.
The conflict grew over competition between Russia and Japan for territory in both Korea and Manchuria, in northern China. Japan had won Port Arthur, at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula, from China in an 1894–1895 war. Russia joined with other European powers to force it to relinquish the port, however — and then three years later had compelled China to grant the city to it. These actions rankled Japan, as did Russia’s refusal to honor a promise to withdraw troops from Manchuria. Japan decided to go to war.
The attack on Port Arthur resumed in the late morning of February 9, when bigger Japanese ships began shelling the Russian fleet and nearby forts. The Russians put up more resistance than expected, however, and the Japanese ships withdrew.
/>The attack on Port Arthur was inconclusive, but the rest of the war went largely Japan’s way. The Japanese enjoyed several victories in 1904, seizing Korea in March, and defeating Russian forces twice in Manchuria during the summer. More success followed in 1905, with the surrender of Port Arthur in January, a victory over a large Russian army in Manchuria in March, and a decisive naval battle at Tsushima Strait in May that destroyed the Russian fleet. Russia’s government, facing unrest at home, was forced to seek peace.
The Russo-Japanese War marked the first victory of a non-European nation against a European one in modern times. It also contributed to unrest in Russia that would lead, more than a decade later, to the Russian Revolution.
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The Russo-Japanese War begins, Feb. 8, 1904
Armed conflict between Russia and Japan began on this day in 1904 when the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur and blockaded the Russian Far East fleet in what is now northeast China. A victorious Japan forced Russia to curtail its expansionist policy in the Far East, becoming the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European one.
The immediate involvement of the United States in that struggle revolved mainly around an American good-faith effort, which was accepted, to mediate between the warring powers. However, the geopolitical fallout from that 113-year-old conflict has been felt repeatedly for many more years, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, even to this day.
The ramifications loomed in the background with the advent and outcome of World War II in the Pacific Theater in the rise of Communist China during the Korean War, in which the Chinese staged a successful surprise attack against the American-led U.N. forces as they approached the Yalu River under Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the ensuing Sino-Soviet split and during the decades-long Cold War.
In pre-Soviet times, Russian expansion into Eastern Asia triggered the war. Russian ambitions ran counter to Japanese plans to gain a foothold on the Asian mainland. In 1898, the Russians leased Port Arthur (now Lushun) from China, with the aim of turning it into a major naval base. The Japanese reacted by mounting a naval blockade.
DeVos defeat just the start for reeling Democrats
The fortunes of war favored one side and then the other — until the climactic Battle of Tsushima, in which the Russian Baltic Fleet, which had sailed halfway around the world and had taken on coal at what later became a major U.S. base during the Vietnam War, was annihilated by the Japanese navy.
Japan and Russia, both exhausted by heavy casualties, finally accepted an offer by President Theodore Roosevelt to broker a peace treaty. (Roosevelt’s ultimately successful diplomatic efforts earned him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.)
Under the resulting Treaty of Portsmouth, signed at the New Hampshire coastal resort on Sept. 5, 1905, Russia gave up its lease of Port Arthur, ceded to the Japanese the southern half of Sakhalin Island, evacuated Manchuria, and recognized all of Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Japan’s defeat in World War II reversed these territorial gains.
In China, fallout from the war ultimately led to the downfall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Although the ensuing revolution ushered in a republic, China remained unprepared — then as now — to become a democracy.
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Russo-Japanese War: Japan’s First Big Surprise
This 1905 photo of a flag-waving crowd in Tokyo records the mixed outcome of the Russo-Japanese War. Smiles reflect Japan's supremacy over its Russian foe, while grim faces belie the high toll of that victory. (Library of Congress)
‘For all the talk of Bushido or Yamato damashii (&ldquoJapanese spirit&rdquo), virtually every victory was more expensive than it had to be’
Everyone knows that wars are supposed to teach us lessons, and that only a careful study of the last war allows armies to prepare for the next one. Consider our standard narrative of the 1904&ndash05 Russo-Japanese War: It featured trenches and barbed wire, rapid-fire artillery and machine guns, and hundreds of thousands of casualties. European generals did not seem to learn much from it, however. Just 10 years later they led armies into World War I, and in many ways that conflict looked like a replay: the trenches and wire, the pounding artillery, machine guns chattering away and soldiers being sent to their deaths wholesale in senseless infantry assaults.
An open and shut case of military ignorance?
The notion that the generals of World War I failed to note the lessons of the Russo-Japanese War is laughable. Every single Great Power&mdashincluding the United States&mdashsent observers to the earlier conflict, and staff officers pored over their reports in excruciating detail. The intensive firepower, the strength of the defense, the monstrous casualties&mdashthe Great Powers knew all about these things. Indeed, the lessons they learned from &ldquoWorld War Zero&rdquo guided the fighting in World War I.
If you were handicapping a war between the Russian and Japanese empires in 1904, you probably would have picked the Russians to win. Russia held all the strategic advantages: three times the population (130 million to 47 million), five times the trained military manpower and virtually unlimited resources. Just as important to the contemporary world, the Russians (most of them, anyway) were white Europeans, and in the heyday of Western imperialism it seemed inconceivable for an Asian people to beat them in a war. When conflict did erupt, the smart money was on Russia&mdashliterally. Japan needed foreign loans to fight the war but found that international money markets were closed to them. No one in Europe was eager to loan money for a quixotic and probably doomed military adventure.
Japan itself was a question mark. Dragged out of centuries of isolation by the &ldquoblack ships&rdquo of Commodore Matthew Perry in the 1850s, the country had embarked on a crash modernization program. It had abolished its feudal system, established a central government with a Western-style constitution, and formed a modern army and navy. Such rapid change is never easy, and the new state had to fight a series of nail-biting civil wars against remnants of the old samurai caste and southern rebels, an ordeal it barely survived. Since then Japan had fought and won a war with China in 1894&ndash95, but to Western analysts that Asian-on-Asian conflict said little one way or the other about Japan&rsquos military proficiency.
Japan&rsquos leaders shared this uncertainty. They understood Japan&rsquos weakness vis-à-vis the West, and they knew they could never survive a contest of numbers and materiel with one of the Great Powers. They had to find a different way to prepare the nation for armed struggle. If Japan could not contend in the material realm, perhaps it could rely on spiritual factors: its unique heritage, its unbroken imperial line stretching back more than 1,000 years its sense of cultural and moral superiority to neighboring races. Japan had rid itself of the samurai during the civil wars, but now it had to resurrect something like the old samurai ethos and impose it on its peasant conscripts. It had to turn these ordinary soldiers into &ldquohuman bullets&rdquo who were willing, even eager, to die in the service of the emperor.
And so Bushido (&ldquothe way of the warrior&rdquo) was born. Death before dishonor. No retreat. No surrender. It was an idealized samurai code, one that many samurai had failed to live up to in the past. While its roots are ancient, Bushido was also a modern invention, a conscious attempt by the Japanese military to create a spiritual equalizer on battlefields that it could never hope to dominate with brute force or numbers.
It is easy to shake our heads over this today, since we know how it all ended in 1945. But consider the course of the Russo-Japanese War: Tensions between the two empires had been rising for a decade. After Japan&rsquos quick victory over China, the Western powers had stepped in and forced Japan to hand back key territorial gains, including the naval base at Port Arthur on the Liaotung Peninsula. Japanese anger rose when the Russians first occupied the port and then leased it from China for 25 years. Subsequent Russian railroad building in the region&mdashthe Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok, the Chinese Eastern through Manchuria, and the South Manchuria down to Port Arthur&mdashseemed to herald a Russian grab for dominance in East Asia, and when Russian business interests pressured the Korean court into granting mining and timber concessions, the Japanese felt they had no choice but to strike.
On Feb. 8, 1904, Japan opened hostilities with a surprise attack on Russia&rsquos 1st Pacific Squadron in Port Arthur. Ten Japanese destroyers approached the roadstead at night, loosed their torpedoes at the anchored Russian ships and sped off. The attack left two of Russia&rsquos seven modern battleships (Retvizan and Tsesarevich) extensively damaged. A follow-up attack the next morning by the Japanese battle fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo was an inconclusive affair, however. The Russians refused to give battle, sheltering under the protective fire of their shore batteries. After damaging five more Russian ships, Togo withdrew.
It was only a partial success, but with the Russian fleet bottled up in Port Arthur, the Japanese could now transport armies to the mainland. On February 16 First Army landed at Chemulpo (present-day Inchon) in Korea. Led by General Count Tamemoto Kuroki, it comprised the 2nd, 12th and Guard Divisions, 42,500 men in all. After entering Seoul, Kuroki launched his army north. He soon reached the Yalu River and in late April engaged a Russian force&mdashthe 3rd Siberian Corps, 16,000 men plus a 5,000-man brigade of Cossack cavalry&mdashdug in along the north bank. Even granting the edge in numbers, Kuroki handled his attack skillfully, using a flanking maneuver upriver by the 12th Division to get the Russians to commit their reserves, then launching a brisk frontal assault by the 2nd and Guards Divisions that cracked the position and drove the defenders back in disorder from the Yalu.
It had been a tough little fight. Russian defensive fire had meted out major punishment to the 12th Division&rsquos flanking attack, and the Guards Division, too, had run into a buzz saw in its frontal assault. Both sides were firing artillery with the new shrapnel shells, and the casualties were not only high but also often horrible to look upon. But the fight also showed Japan might not be a bad investment after all, and the country began to find eager lenders in the foreign banking community. Moreover, it set the pattern for the rest of the war: The Japanese would take all the risks, launch virtually all the attacks and drive the Russians from one defensive position after another.
On May 5 the Second Army landed at Pitzuwo on the Liaotung Peninsula. As General Baron Yasukata Oku&rsquos men marched south, advancing on the key port of Dalny, they soon reached one of the world&rsquos great military bottlenecks. As the peninsula extends southwest, it narrows into an isthmus just 3,500 yards wide at its narrowest point. Looming over it is Nanshan, a ring of hills about a mile in diameter. The bare, open slopes provided the Russians with a perfect field of fire, and they had also fortified the hill with trenches, barbed wire and machine guns. Artillery was plentiful, the guns dug in deeply and connected by telephone, and fronting the position were dense minefields and a double fence of barbed wire. Russian engineers had even hauled up a generator to power searchlights, in case the Japanese tried a nighttime coup. As a military observer for the The Times of London put it, if a Russian army could not hold Nanshan, &ldquoIt is hard to say what position it can expect to defend with success.&rdquo
Needless to say, Nanshan was not a battle of finesse. Thick waves of Japanese infantry, three divisions abreast, stormed the hill, only to be mowed down by Russian machine-gun fire, as well as by artillery deployed to the rear in one of history&rsquos first uses of indirect fire. The Japanese came up again and again over the course of the day, launching nine separate charges and reeling back each time with heavy losses. Only the 4th Division, on the right flank, managed to move forward, due mainly to fire support from a nimble flotilla of Japanese gunboats in Chinchou Bay. In an unusual 20-minute amphibious assault the men actually had to enter the water, wade with rifles held high and then re-land. They made just enough progress to prompt the Russian commander at Nanshan to blow his ammunition dumps and order a retreat. The Japanese had taken Nanshan, but losses had been grievous&mdashnearly 5,000 men on a very small field.
Brisk maneuver, aggressive frontal assaults, contempt for death: This was the Japanese recipe for success. It was costly, but it worked, and even if it did not &ldquoforce&rdquo the enemy to retreat in any real sense, it seemed to put Russian commanders in the mood to flee. It would be the same in the next three battles, each one larger than the last, each one bloodier, and each ending in Japanese victory.
Consider the fight for Port Arthur itself. The next Japanese army to arrive in the theater was the Third, its 90,000 men commanded by General Baron Maresuke Nogi, the same crusty old warrior who had wrested Port Arthur from the Chinese during the previous war. Nogi landed at Dalny, marched his three divisions (1st, 9th and 11th) south toward Port Arthur and on August 19 launched an assault on the outer works.
Given his desire to seize the fortress quickly, the size of the forces involved and the available firepower, losses were bound to be high. But even an assault on a fortress can have some subtlety. Nogi went for a short bombardment followed by a single thrust along the eastern approaches to Port Arthur, the most heavily defended point in the Russian line. He seriously underestimated the strength of the defenses&mdashconcrete and steel bunkers, fortified villages, lunettes, barbed wire, trip wires and electric mines. The result was predictable, and horrific. Japanese infantry came up with their usual verve, three divisions abreast, and were shot to pieces. Back they came and then again. The fighting raged for six days, or, to be more accurate, six days and nights, as searchlights were now part of the arsenal. In the end Bushido bowed to firepower, and Nogi called off the assault. In taking a few outlying forts, his army had suffered more than 18,000 casualties.
There would be a second assault on Port Arthur in September and a third in October. The latter sacrificed more than 4,000 men in a vain attempt to take 203 Meter Hill, the dominant height on the left of the Russian line. With winter coming on, Nogi made one last try in November. His army now bulged with 100,000 men, backed by the fire of 11-inch Krupp howitzers. This attack, too, left thousands of Japanese dead in front of the Russian trenches, but bit by bit Nogi&rsquos infantry, braving enemy fire and ignoring their losses, fought their way to the top of the hill. The cost, again, had been high: another 8,000 men.
It was the decisive moment in the siege. With a direct line of sight down into the harbor, the Japanese could now call down artillery fire onto the Russian fleet, and they destroyed it, a ship at a time, in December. In January 1905 Port Arthur surrendered. Disease and six months of fighting had cost the Japanese 90,000 men, a high price to pay even when driving an enemy out of a supposedly impregnable position.
As the fighting raged at Port Arthur, the main Japanese drive to the north had begun. Three armies, the First, Second and the newly arrived Fourth (General Viscount Michitsura Nozu), now converged on the city of Liaoyang. Field Marshal Iwao Oyama, chief of the Japanese General Staff, had arrived in theater and was acting as supreme commander. His aim was not merely to drive back the enemy or to seize Liaoyang, but to destroy the Russian forces in Manchuria and end the war. To that end he had two armies (the Second and Fourth) advance directly upon the city, moving up the line of the South Manchuria Railway. They would launch a frontal assault to pin the Russians in place, while Kuroki&rsquos First Army made a wide flanking maneuver on the right, crossing the Taitsu River and getting into the Russian rear.
It was a solid plan, but again the Japanese underestimated their enemy. Kuroki started out on August 26, but rather than pass cleanly around the Russian flank, he had to fight his way up to the river. When he finally did cross, a storm blew away the bridges to his rear. It was a tight spot, with Russians to the front and a swollen river to his rear. But as grimly as the Russians defended, they never managed any sort of counterstroke. Kuroki&rsquos losses were heavy, but he was able to grind his way forward, posing a threat to Liaoyang and compelling the Russians to retreat. As for those armies launching the frontal assault, their men died in droves, and the final casualty toll for both sides topped 40,000 men.
Once again the Japanese had pried the Russians from a heavily fortified position. It was clear, however, they were reaching their limit. They had made an epic march deep into Manchuria but were no closer to ultimate victory. The Russians had lost every battle but remained in the field, and their army was growing with the arrival of every troop train. Oyama knew it was time for a decisive win.
In early 1905 the Japanese once again marched up the South Manchuria line and met the Russians, entrenched this time in front of the city of Mukden. The resulting battle, opening on February 20, was the largest of the war and among the largest in history: 330,000 Russians facing 270,000 Japanese. Oyama now had five full armies under his control, a suitable battle array for this gifted commander. The newly arrived Fifth Army (General Baron Kageaki Kawamura), on the extreme right of the Japanese line, led off the attack with a thrust through the rough terrain southeast of Mukden. When the Russians countered by shifting reserve formations to block it, Oyama launched a frontal assault by the three armies in his center. Advancing directly on the Russian trenches, they took heavy losses, but their Krupp howitzers dished out some serious pain to the entrenched Russians.
With the defenders pinned frontally, and their reserves committed far to the east, Oyama launched his main blow&mdasha wide turning maneuver to the west by Nogi&rsquos Third Army, aiming to outflank and destroy the Russians in a battle of encirclement. Nogi set out on February 27, but as at Port Arthur he moved a bit too slowly, a function of raging snowstorms, his own nature and tough enemy resistance. The combination allowed the Russian commander, General Alexei Kuropatkin, to organize hasty counterattacks by small reserve detachments, often comprising rear-area personnel, supply troops and cooks, men not used to the rigors of tactical combat. They slowed but did not stop Nogi&rsquos advance. The Japanese gradually drove in the Russian flank, and soon the line was bent into a tight crescent some 100 miles long. On March 9, with the Japanese nearing the railroad and his reserves used up, Kuropatkin ordered a retreat through a very narrow corridor. In fact, it was a nightmare&mdasha gauntlet peppered with Japanese fire from both sides.
The Japanese had won their war, but it had been a grueling contest. Initial plans had gone awry. The failure to destroy the Russian fleet in Port Arthur had led to a bloody land campaign to take the town itself. For all the talk of Bushido or Yamato damashii (&ldquoJapanese spirit&rdquo), virtually every victory was more expensive than it had to be, including 75,000 more casualties at Mukden. Not everyone was happy to serve as a human bullet in Manchuria, and publication of the casualty rolls was the occasion for serious unrest and even rioting in Japan.
But let us return to our original notion of war&rsquos lessons. Imagine being a European staff officer in 1910. It is a tense era, and a general war seems inevitable. You are a diligent student of the military arts, and you recognize the importance of military history. What lessons would you draw from the Russo-Japanese War? Could you honestly look at it and say machine guns and entrenchments are too terrible? That they have rendered the attack obsolete? You would be far more likely to conclude that victory had gone to the side that attacked, kept attacking and had stomach enough to tolerate casualties. You would think a lot about Port Arthur: one failed assault after another with losses that would have crushed many armies, until the Japanese had apparently willed themselves to final victory on 203 Meter Hill. You would vow that, when your chance came, you would be equally determined.
World War I was horrific, especially the blood-drenched fighting on the Western Front. It wasn&rsquot because the generals ignored the Russo-Japanese War, however. On the contrary, they studied it carefully and drew what seemed to them logical conclusions about how to achieve victory. Perhaps the lessons of war are more complex than we like to think.
For further reading Rob Citino recommends Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear, by Richard Connaughton Japan&rsquos Imperial Army, by Edward J. Drea and The Russian Way of War, by Richard W. Harrison.