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Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) was a conflict that grew out of the rival imperialist ambitions of Imperial Russia and Japan in Manchuria and Korea. It resulted in a surprise victory for Japan, establishing Japan as a major world power.


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

Popular discontent in Russia following the defeat led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. The war ended with mediation by the United States. There was discontent among Japanese over the lack of territorial gains; this led to an erosion of good feelings towards the United States.

The defeat of Russia was met with shock both in the West and especially across Asia. That a non-Western country could defeat an established power in such a large military conflict was particularly inspiring to various anti-colonial independence movements around the world. After the conclusion of World War II, some Japanese historians would look back upon the war with nostalgia, especially those who have sought to portray Japan's conduct in the first half of the century as one of leadership in a sustained effort to liberate oppressed Asian peoples and thereby downplay Japan's own imperialistic ambitions throughout the period.


Origins of the war

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

Japan, after failing to negotiate a favorable agreement with Russia, which dragged its feet in 1903-04 about a staged withdrawal from Manchuria, decided to seek a military solution. Japan's military had been recently modernized, and although it was not nearly as large as the Russian, it was more than adequate to face the forces that Russia had stationed in Asia at the beginning of the war. Japan severed relations on February 4, 1904, although war was not declared until after the beginning of hostilities on February 8th.

See Ian Nish, The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War, Longman, 1985 ISBN 0582491142

Campaign of 1904

Port Arthur, on the Liaotung peninsula in the south of Manchuria, had been fortified into a major naval base by the Russians. The Japanese needed to control the sea in order to fight a war on the Asian mainland, so their first military objective was to neutralize the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. On the night of February 8, 1904, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo opened the war with a surprise torpedo attack on the Russian ships at Port Arthur, badly damaging two Russian battleships. A series of indecisive naval engagements followed, in which the Japanese were unable to attack the Russian fleet successfully under the land guns of the harbor and the Russians declined to leave the harbor for the open seas, especially after the death of Admiral Makarov on April 13. These provided cover for a Japanese landing near Incheon in Korea, from which they occupied Seoul and rapidly occupied the rest of Korea. By the end of April, the Japanese army under Kuroki Itei was prepared to cross the Yalu river into Russian-occupied Manchuria.

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

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

Campaign of 1905

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

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


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

An offer of mediation by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt led to the Treaty of Portsmouth, N.H., on September 5, 1905. Russia ceded to Japan the southern half of Sakhalin Island, as well as the naval base at Port Arthur and the peninsula around it. Russia further agreed to evacuate Manchuria and recognize Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Japan would annex Korea in 1910.

This was one of the first major victories in the modern era of an Asian country over a Western one, and Japanese prestige rose greatly as they began to be considered a modern Great Power. In the absence of Russian competition and with the distraction of European nations during World War I and the Great Depression, the Japanese military began the efforts to dominate China that would lead to World War II in the Pacific, and this victory over a Western power began a series of events that would lead to Decolonization. In Russia, this defeat led in the short term to a reform of the Russian military that would allow it to face Germany in World War I, but the revolts at home following war and military defeat presaged the Russian Revolution of 1917.

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

List of battles

See also

External links

  • Russo-Japanese War research society
  • Text of the Treaty of Portsmouth:
  • Russian Navy history of war:

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45