Port Arthur, Siege of

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Originally constructed by the Chinese as a fortress in 1892, Port Arthur (modern Lushun) protected an important naval base and roadstead at the foot of the Liaotung Peninsula. In the great-power race for Chinese bases and influence that followed the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895, Russia in 1898 obtained a twenty-five-year lease on Port Arthur's naval facilities and the surrounding territory. In an age of coal-burning vessels, Port Arthur was an important fueling station that would enable the growing Russian Pacific Squadron to interdict Japanese naval communications in the Yellow Sea and beyond.

Short of resources, the Russians only began seriously improving Port Arthur in 1901. The Japanese surprise attack that opened the Russo-Japanese War on the night of February 89, 1904, caught Russian naval units and Port Arthur unprepared. Admiral Heihachiro Togo's fleet soon bottled up the Russian squadron, while a Japanese army advanced overland from Dairen (Ta-lien) to lay siege to the Russian ground defenses. Although poorly led, the Russian defenders withstood four major assaults before the Japanese seizure of 203 Meter Hill enabled artillery observers to subject the warships in the port to accurate siege mortar fire. They were soon pounded to pieces. The garrison capitulated on January 2, 1905, thus freeing the besieging army to reinforce the four Japanese field armies already operating against Adjutant General Alexei N. Kuropatkin's army group near Mukden.

Port Arthur was both a symbol of heroic Russian resistance and a distraction that goaded Kuropatkin to decisive field action earlier and farther south than he had originally planned. On the Russian home front, the fall of Port Arthur added fuel to the fire of popular disturbances that culminated in the Revolution of 1905.

See also: china, relations with; japan, relations with; kuropatkin, alexei nikolayevich; russo-japanese war


Menning, Bruce W. (2000). Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 18611914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Westwood, J. N. (1986). Russia against Japan, 190405: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bruce W. Menning