Mukden, Battle of
MUKDEN, BATTLE OF
The Battle of Mukden was a locally decisive confrontation (19 February–10 March 1905) in northeastern China during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. It took place in the vicinity of Mukden (now called Shenyang). Both adversaries were poised to take the offensive, but General Alexei Kuropatkin's three Russian field armies were the first to give ground and then withdraw in a near rout under heavy pressure from Field Marshal Oyama Iwao's five Japanese field armies. Kuropatkin counted 300,000 troops, 1,386 field guns, and 56 machine guns against Oyama's 270,000 troops, 1,062 field guns, and 200 machine guns. Kuropatkin's initial dispositions extended east–west along a 150-kilo-meter (93-mile) line that was bisected by the South Manchurian Railroad just south of Mukden. His entrenched troops held these dispositions in places to a tactical depth of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), and he backed his forward echelon with two corps in operational reserve. Oyama's dispositions initially mirrored the Russians', but were attenuated to 110 kilometers (68 miles) because he held his newly arrived Third Army (under Nogi Maresuke, victorious in the recent siege at Port Arthur) to the west and slightly to the rear, and his newly created Fifth Army (under Kawamura Kageaki) to the east and also slightly to the rear.
These "refused flanks" were part of Oyama's larger operational concept: to deceive Kuropatkin and then lock his army group in the deadly grasp of a double envelopment, thus repeating the Prussian success at Sedan in 1870. Oyama would open an offensive with Kawamura's Fifth Army in hilly terrain to the east, then add pressure with pinning attacks on Kuropatkin's center. Once Kuropatkin had risen to the bait by shifting his reserves to the east, then Oyama would launch Nogi's Third Army in a deep envelopment over open terrain to the west of Kuropatkin's right flank. The enveloping Japanese Third and Fifth Armies would link up north of Mukden, thereby trapping Kuropatkin in a battle of encirclement.
Meanwhile, Kuropatkin lacked intelligence on the Japanese order of battle. Tethered to the railroad, he expected Nogi's Third Army from Port Arthur, but Oyama's refused flanks masked both Nogi's and Kawamura's dispositions. To retain the initiative in an uncertain situation, Kuropatkin fully intended to strike first by his own right wing on 25 February against the village of Sandepu, and then develop this local attack into a general offensive. Kawamura, however, preempted him with his own attack on the night of 23–24 February, and Kuropatkin subsequently mistook steady Japanese progress against his left as Oyama's main blow with Nogi's reinforcements.
Breaking off the engagement at Sandepu, Kuropatkin reacted predictably on 25 February by dispatching the majority of his operational reserve to the east against Kawamura, only to learn two days later that Nogi's Third Army was enveloping the Russian right flank in the west. On 1 March, Kuropatkin reversed the flow of his reserves to commit them in the west, but on 2–3 March repeated Russian counterattacks failed to arrest Nogi's advance toward the South Manchurian Railroad north of Mukden. A counteroffensive by Kuropatkin's right-flank Second Army similarly failed to halt General Oku Yasutaka's supporting Japanese Second Army. As Kuropatkin shifted the Russian Second Army's dispositions to protect his right flank, General Nozu Michitsura's Fourth Army and General Kuroki Tametomo's First Army renewed general offensive operations against the entire Russian center. Under heavy pressure all along his front and with his right increasingly threatened, Kuropatkin on 6 March fell back to the Hun River. Kawamura's troops in the east scored a breakthrough, however, and with his rear now threatened from the right and left, Kuropatkin ordered a general withdrawal. In the ensuing confusion, some Russian troops fought to the last, while others simply fled. Kuropatkin lost nearly 89,000 troops, including 30,000 prisoners, and nearly all his military stores and heavy armament. With the Russian rout halted only at Xipingkai, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) north of Mukden, Kuropatkin was soon replaced by General Nikolai Petrovich Linevich. Oyama counted fewer casualties (71,000), but a battle of annihilation had eluded him.
Russian defeat did not imply Russian capitulation. Linevichstill possessed the ground-force equivalent of a "fleet in being" that could be resupplied and reinforced from European Russia. Oyama, meanwhile, could not bring effective pressure to bear against Xipingkai because of manpower shortages and logistical overextension. Still, the defeat bore heavily on Russian morale and fueled the fires of domestic revolution in Russia. When combined with Admiral Togo Heihachiro's naval battle of annihilation at Tsushima in May 1905, Mukden added up to another substantial loss in a war that the ever-weakening Russian domestic rear could not support.
Mukden presaged the age of twentieth-century world wars in several ways. It involved a half a million troops in continuous combat across vast distances over a three-week span. It also amounted to an operation on a frontal scale, with attendant requirements for assaulting entrenchments, for developing combat in depth, and for incorporating and integrating the effects of modern smokeless powder weaponry. Yet, because the force ratios were nearly equal and because neither side counted substantial advantages in mobility and firepower, the outcome did not prove strategically decisive.
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Bruce W. Menning