Russo-Japanese War

views updated May 14 2018


the background
the fighting
the peace
the effect

The first great-power conflict of the twentieth century, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905 foreshadowed many of the political, military, and cultural trends of succeeding decades. Its outcome made Japan the undisputed hegemon of East Asia, swung Russian attention back to European issues, and brought the United States and Japan onto a collision course for war.

the background

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russia colonized Siberia, and its interest in the Pacific maritime region eventually brought it into contact with Japan, then ruled by feudal lords, the most powerful of which, the Tokugawa family, set up a government called the shogunate and acted as a national hegemon. Starting in the 1790s, Russian explorers and adventurers began reaching the Japanese isles. Adam Laxman, a Swede in Russian service, encountered a land with tightly controlled foreign relations when he arrived in 1792. Since the 1630s, Japanese had been prohibited on pain of death from leaving or reentering the home islands. Of Westerners, only the Dutch were allowed a trading presence on the southern port of Nagasaki. Laxman was refused permission to trade, as were later visitors, such as Nikolai Rezanov in 1804 and Vasily Golovnin in 1811. Golovnin, in fact, was captured by Japanese forces, sparking a brief crisis between the two nations.

By the 1850s, Russia was determined not to be left behind in any commercial agreements being signed between Japan and Western powers such as the United States and Great Britain. Though as yet possessing little trade potential, Russia had watched Britain's expansion into China after the first Opium War (1839–1842), and in response approved expeditions deep into Siberia, reaching Sakhalin Island in 1852, and eventually resulting in the founding of Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, in 1860. Russia signed a commercial treaty with Japan in August 1858, though its trading presence was limited to the northern port of Hakodate.

Japan perceived Russia as a territorial threat, rather than an economic one. By the 1880s, Korea was the main strategic concern of the new imperial Meiji government. Both Ch'ing China and tsarist Russia threatened to control the peninsula. Russia in particular moved forward with its plans for the Chinese Eastern and South Manchurian Railroads, part of the Trans-Siberian network. Clashing over influence at the Korean court, Japan attacked China in 1894, inaugurating the Sino-Japanese War. Despite its victory, Tokyo was forced by Russia, France, and Germany to return its territorial gains in what was known as the Triple Intervention of 1895. In the years after the war Russia increased its influence in Korea, and as part of the Allied intervention against the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, dispatched 175,000 troops to Manchuria.

Repeated diplomatic wrangling failed to produce a solution, despite Japan's clear desire to

recognize Manchuria as Russia's sphere of influence in return for a reciprocal acknowledgement of its Korean interests. Russia continued to build naval bases in northern China and even in southern Korea. This intransigence generated anti-Russian popular movements in Japan and pushed Tokyo to pursue an agreement with Great Britain, namely the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, announced in January 1902. The Russian government remained unresponsive to Japanese proposals during 1902 and 1903, and by the end of that year, Japan had decided upon war.

the fighting

The war began with a Japanese surprise attack on the Russian Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur (now called Lüshun), located on the Liaodong Peninsula in northern China, in early February 1904. Japanese naval action during the first months of the war focused on bottling up and attempting to destroy the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. The Japanese, led by Admiral Heihachiro Togo, maintained a blockade of the port, and in mid-April their mines destroyed the Russian flagship Petropavlovsk, killing the Russian naval commander, Vice Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov. In mid-May, however, the Japanese in turn lost two of their six battleships to mines, leading to a naval stalemate and an increased focus on land warfare.

During February and March 1904, the Japanese First Army landed in Korea, occupying Pyongyang and other major cities. On 30 April, three Japanese divisions defeated the Russians, commanded by Alexei Kuropatkin, former war minister, at the Yalu River, thereby breaking Russia's defensive line into Manchuria and proving their ingenuity at hauling heavy howitzers over difficult terrain, among the first times it had been done in large-scale fighting. The battle of the Yalu River removed the Russian threat to Korea, which was the strategic objective of the war, and put at risk the Russian headquarters at Liaoyang, north of the Liaodong Peninsula. Equally important, it marked the first defeat of a European army by an Asian one, and was a correspondingly decisive military and psychological blow to the Russians.

The Russian Fleet remained at Port Arthur, although bottled up, and the Japanese landed the Second Army on the Kwantung Peninsula, an extension of the Liaodong Peninsula, in early May. After a month of heavy fighting around Nanshan, the Russians retreated south to Port Arthur, and the Japanese took control of strategically important Dalian (Dalny) on Dalian Bay. This gave them a superior vantage point from which to attack Port Arthur. The Japanese besieged the fortress from August through January 1905, led by General Maresuke Nogi, who had captured it from the Chinese in 1894. The months of fighting, the nature of which in many ways prefigured World War I, claimed over 30,000 Russian and 60,000 Japanese casualties.

As the campaign progressed, the Russians increasingly found themselves hampered by the logistics of an 8,000-kilometer (5,000-mile) supply line. Kuropatkin was also unable to reinforce his troops quickly enough to match the Japanese buildup, because fresh formations had to travel from western Russia by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. After advancing on Liaoyang during June and July 1904, the Japanese fought a pitched battle from 23 August to 3 September. The victory, purchased with heavy losses, was incomplete, for the bulk of the Russian army escaped north to their main headquarters at Mukden (now called Shenyang). The Japanese followed in pursuit, but both armies went into winter quarters—a vestige of earlier, more measured war making. Not till February 1905 did the armies clash once more. At a cost of nearly 16,000 killed and 60,000 wounded, the Japanese under Field Marshal Iwao Oyama destroyed Kuropatkin's forces, inflicting 70,000 casualties including 20,000 killed or missing. With the capture of Mukden, the land war came to an end.

The final act of the war was a naval battle in the Tsushima Strait, located between Japan and Korea. As part of the plan to relieve the then-blockaded Russian forces at Port Arthur, St. Petersburg ordered the Baltic Fleet to sail 33,300 kilometers (18,000 nautical miles) to the theater of war. Commanded by Rear Admiral Zinovi Rozhdestvenski, the fleet departed in October 1904 and reached the strait, intending to continue on to Vladivostok, in late May 1905. On 27 May, nearly the entire fleet was destroyed by the Japanese navy, which had been lying in wait off the coast of Korea.

the peace

The destruction of the Baltic Fleet marked the end of hostilities. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, upon urging from Japanese diplomats, offered to mediate a peace settlement. The Russians were represented by Sergei Witte, former finance minister, and the Japanese by Baron Jutaro Komura. The two sides met during August and September, signing a treaty in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 5 September. The treaty gave Japan unfettered influence in Korea, and it ceded to Tokyo the southern section of the Manchurian Railroad, the southern half of Sakhalin Island, and the Russian lease on the Liaotung Peninsula, including Port Arthur. Nevertheless, the refusal of Russia to pay any indemnity and the joint agreement to withdraw troops from Manchuria led to popular riots in Tokyo against the treaty. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediating efforts.

the effect

Japan's victory made it the hegemon of East Asia. It took control over Korea as a protectorate in

1905, and formally annexed it in 1910. Russian ambitions in Asia were destroyed, and popular riots against the tsar broke out in St. Petersburg and Odessa. More generally, the defeat of a European Great Power by an Asian nation seemed a harbinger of the end of Western colonialism, and gave rise to nationalist sentiments in colonized lands. It also engendered public riots in both Japan and Russia, exposing the increasing role of public opinion in foreign affairs. Finally, it made the United States and Japan the sole contenders for power in East Asia, and thus brought them closer to conflict.

Militarily, the war highlighted the role of technology and foreshadowed the type of fighting that would mark World War I. Mass infantry attacks, trench warfare, the extensive use of machine guns and heavy artillery on land, and the comprehensive employment of steam-powered armored warships armed with big guns made the Russo-Japanese War the first modern war. Military observers from many nations took the lessons of the war with them into battle in 1914.

See alsoMukden, Battle of; Portsmouth, Treaty of; Revolution of 1905 (Russia).


Connaughton, R. M. Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia's War with Japan. Rev. ed. London, 2003.

Steinberg, John W., Bruce W. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David Wolff, and Shinji Yokote, eds. The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Leiden, Netherlands, 2005.

Michael R. Auslin

Russo-Japanese War

views updated Jun 27 2018


After brokering the end of the Sino-Japanese War (18941895) with the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Russia placed itself on a collision course with Japan over the issue of spheres of influence in Manchuria. Relations between the two countries further deteriorated in 1898, when Russia occupied the Chinese fortress of Port Arthur (now Lu-shun), and again in 1903, when Russian economic interest focused on Korea. Japan's response to Russia's aggressive eastern policy became apparent on February 8, 1904 when Admiral Heihachiro Togo launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur. Having won control of the sea, the Japanese began landing land troops at Chemulpo (now Inchon), as far north as possible on the Korean Peninsula to avoid the bad roads. Nonetheless, the weather did not cooperate, and it was six weeks before General Tamemoto Kuroki's First Army was ready to march around the northern tip of the Bay of Korea and invade the Liao Tung Peninsula.

Russia, meanwhile, had entered the war unprepared for conflict in Asia. Its military planners had given priority to the empire's European frontiers and had not dedicated sufficient resources to the defense of its Asian interests. While the Japanese considered mainland northeastern Asia vital to their national security, the Russians viewed the region merely as a colonial interest for potential economic development and wealth. No one understood Russia's predicament as clearly as War Minister Alexei N. Kuropatkin, who, upon the outbreak of war, resigned his ministerial portfolio, assumed command of the Russian army, and proceeded to Manchuria, where he arrived in March 1904. Since his forces were being transferred from one end of the empire to the other on the single-track and still incomplete Trans-Siberian Railroad, Kuropatkin set up defenses that he hoped would give Russia at least three months to build up its military presence in the Far East.

Kuropatkin began concentrating troops between Harbin and Liao Yang, but the Japanese thwarted his plan by beginning operations in the middle of March. The Japanese movements unnerved the commander of Port Arthur, General A.M. Stoessel, who immediately appealed to Nicholas II's personally appointed viceroy for the Far East, Admiral E. I. Alexiev, for help. Alexiev ordered Kuropatkin to attack the Japanese, but the commander-in-chief, holding that he was answerable only to the tsar, refused. Thinking that Port Arthur had supplies enough to withstand a long siege, Kuropatkin had no intention of deviating from his plan. Before this dispute could be resolved, the Japanese forced Kuropatkin's hand by defeating the Russians in the hotly contested Battle of Nanshan in April.

With Port Arthur's supply lines cut after Nanshan, Kuropatkin no longer had the luxury of waiting until an overwhelming force was assembled. The major battles of the war followed: Va Fan Gou (May), Liao Yang (August), and the river Sha Ho (October), effectively concluding with Mukden in February 1905. The Russians were soundly defeated in each of these battles by an enemy that first out-thought and then outmaneuvered them. Having concentrated three armies under the overall command of Marshal Iwao Oyama, the Japanese were able to fight the war on their own terms. Ironically, by the Battle of Mukden, Kuropatkin had finally achieved numerical superiority just as the Japanese reached the end of their material and human resources, but he, his staff, and the Russian intelligence services never became aware of this advantage and were intimidated by the Japanese army's maneuverability. Further aggravating the Russian predicament was the inexplicable capitulation of Port Arthur on January 2, 1905. The situation was best described by the numerous military observers representing most of the world's nations, who noted how unmotivated Russia's army seemed in comparison to the patriotic Japanese soldiers with their strong sense of national mission.

A final event that captured the attention of the world was the saga of Russia's Baltic Fleet. By the autumn of 1904, Russia's Pacific Fleet lay in ruins, and to regain control of the sea, Nicholas II ordered the Baltic fleet to the Far East. Under the command of Admiral Z. P. Rozhestvensky, the Baltic Fleet sortied on October 15, 1904. Its round-the-world

voyage attracted the interest of the international press, which reported its attack on British fishing vessels on the Dogger Bank (the Russians mistakenly imagined that they were Japanese warships), its search to find places to refuel and refit ships that had not been designed for such an arduous journey; and its rendezvous with reinforcements at Madagascar. By the time the fleet arrived in Asia, Togo was lying in wait and had little difficulty defeating it in the Battle of the Tsushima Straits on May 27, 1905, which dashed Russia's last hopes.

The Russo-Japanese War was the first global conflict of the modern era and the first war in which an emerging Asian nation defeated a European great power. The Japanese victory inflamed Asian nationalism and contributed to the struggle against colonialism throughout the region. The military debacle exposed the weakness of the tsarist regime and is usually considered the prime cause of the Revolution of 1905. After the complete defeat of Russia's land and naval forces, the tsar sued for peace. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt brokered the Treaty of Portsmouth (August 23, 1905), but the Japanese believed that they had lost the peace and did not trust Western diplomacy again until after World War II. Finally, from the technical standpoint, the Russo-Japanese War was a precursor to World War I. Both sides mobilized mass armies and used trenches, machine guns, and rapid-fire artilleryweapons that help define the early twentieth century battlefield.

See also: baltic fleet; japan, relations with; korea, relations with; kuropatkin, alexei nikolayevich; military, imperial era; port arthur, seige of; portsmouth, treaty of; revolution of 1905; tsushima, battle of


Committee of Imperial Defence, Historical Section. (19101920). Official History, Naval and Military, of the Russo Japanese War. 3 vols. London: Committee of Imperial Defence.

Connaughton, Richard M. (1988). The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: A Military History of the Russo-Japanese War, 190405. London: Routledge.

Corbett, Julian S. (1994). Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 190405. 2 vols. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

German General Staff, Historical Section (1909). The Russo-Japanese War, tr. Karl von Donat. 9 vols. London: H. Rees.

Kinai, M., ed. (1907). The Russo-Japanese War: Official Reports. 2 vols. Tokyo: Shimashido.

United States, War Department, General Staff. (1907). Reports of Military Observers Attached to the Armies in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War. 5 parts. Washington, DC, Government Printing Office.

Walder, David. (1973). The Short Victorious War: The Russo-Japanese Conflict, 19041905. New York: Harper & Row.

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

John W. Steinberg

Russo-Japanese War

views updated May 14 2018

Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) was the struggle between the two dominant nations in northeastern Asia for supremacy in Korea and Manchuria (a region in northeastern China bordering Russia and Mongolia). Russia had begun its expansion into Siberia in the sixteenth century. Its first border conflicts with China were solved via the treaties of Nerchinsk (1689) and Kyakhta (1727). During the eighteenth century, Russia built an empire reaching as far as Alaska, and during the nineteenth century, Russia intensified its empire-building efforts in East Asia. In 1858 China ceded the Amur region to Russia, and in 1860 China further surrendered parts of the coast, where in the same year the Russians established a naval base with the programmatic name Vladivostok ("ruler of the east").

After the Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), Russian and Japanese interests started to collide. When Japan demanded control of the strategically important harbor of Lüshun (Port Arthur) on China's Liaodong Peninsula, Russia combined forces with Germany and France and forced Japan to back down. Russia then took the harbor for itself in 1898. At the same time, Russia acquired the rights to build railways through Manchuria, providing a vital connection to Vladivostok and the new base at Port Arthur.

Under the pretext of aiding besieged legations in Beijing during the Boxer Uprising of 1900, Russia sent considerable reinforcements into Manchuria. In addition, Russia became interested in extending its influence into Korea, an area that Japan regarded as a potential future colony. Japan and Russia thus failed to reach an agreement on their mutual interests, causing Japan in 1903 to consider going to war. On February 4, 1904, Japan broke diplomatic relations with Russia.

Hostilities commenced without a declaration of war on the night of February 8, 1904, when Japan launched a torpedo boat attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. At the same time, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo (1847–1934) was on its way to blockade Russian harbors and secure landing operations for the Japanese army on the Korean Peninsula.

Several indecisive naval engagements ensued. At first, the Russian fleet mainly stayed near the coastal batteries at Port Arthur. A brief period of greater Russian activity under Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov (1849–1904) ended with the admiral's death when his flagship, Petropavlovsk, struck a mine on April 13, 1904. Meanwhile, the Japanese blockade gave their army cover for landing operations in Korea. Japanese forces occupied Korea in February and March 1904, and by the end of April, Japanese troops started to cross the Yalu River into Manchuria.

On May 1, 1904, Russia was defeated in the Battle of the Yalu. Japan combined the advance into Manchuria with further landings on the Manchurian coast, and the Russians were forced to fall back. Russia was thus cut off from Port Arthur, which came under siege from Japan. In August, the Russian fleet attempted to break through to Vladivostok, but was defeated by Togo's forces in the Battle of the Yellow Sea (August 10). Russia's relief operations failed, and after the Battle of Liaoyang (August 26-September 3), Russian land forces were forced to fall back on Shenyang (Mukden).

After several attempts resulting in high numbers of Japanese casualties, Port Arthur fell to the Japanese on January 2, 1905. The Russians had originally counted on gaining the upper hand with the arrival of reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway, but the connection was too slow and the Russian forces were continually driven back. After victory in the Battle of Mukden (February 19-March 10, 1905), Japanese forces gained the upper hand in Manchuria.

Russia had earlier dispatched its Baltic fleet under Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky (1848–1909) to relieve Port Arthur. After a long journey around the Cape of Good Hope, the fleet was intercepted by Japan in the Tsushima Strait and was almost annihilated in the Battle of Tsushima (May 27-28, 1905).

Peace between Japan and Russia was negotiated by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and on September 5, 1905, the Treaty of Portsmouth was concluded. Russia ceded Port Arthur and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan and recognized Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Russia's disastrous defeat in the Russo-Japanese War led to the Russian revolution of 1905. After the war, Russia withdrew from the power struggle in East Asia and concentrated on inner reforms and the reconstruction of its military. This first major victory of an Asian power over a Western one came as a surprise. The Japanese success inspired resistance against Western imperialism in all of Asia, and especially in China. Without Russian competition, Japan rapidly expanded its sphere of influence, a development that eventually culminated in World War II in the Pacific.

see also Central Asia, European Presence in; Empire, Japanese.


Connaughton, Richard Michael. The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: A Military History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–5. London: Routledge, 1988.

Nish, Ian. The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War. London: Longman, 1985.

Pleshakov, Constantine. The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David. Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Warner, Denis, and Peggy Warner. The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905, 2nd ed. London: Cass, 2001.

Wells, David, and Sandra Wilson, eds. The Russo-Japanese War in Cultural Perspective, 1904–05. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1999.

Westwood, J. N. Russia Against Japan, 1904–05: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

Russo-Japanese War

views updated Jun 08 2018

Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) Conflict arising from the rivalry of Russia and Japan for control of Manchuria and Korea. The war opened with a Japanese attack on Port Arthur (Lüshun), Manchuria. Russian forces suffered a series of defeats on land and at sea, culminating in the Battle of Mukden (February–March 1905) and the annihilation of the Baltic fleet at Tsushima (May). Russia was forced to surrender Korea, the Liaotung Peninsula, and s Sakhalin to Japan.