The Russo–Japanese War (Japanese: 日露戦争; Romaji: Nichi-Ro Sensō; Russian: Русско-японская война Russko-Yaponskaya Voyna; simplified Chinese: 日俄战争; traditional Chinese: 日俄戰爭; pinyin: Rìézhànzhēng, 10 February 1904 – 5 September 1905) or the Manchurian Campaign in some English sources, was a conflict that grew out of the rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were Southern Manchuria, specifically the area around the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden, the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea.
The Russians were in constant pursuit of a warm water port on the Pacific Ocean, for their navy as well as for maritime trade. The recently established Pacific seaport of Vladivostok was only operational during the summer season, but Port Arthur would be operational all year. From the end of the First Sino-Japanese War and 1903, negotiations between the Tsar's government and Japan had proved futile. Japan chose war to maintain exclusive dominance in Korea.
The resulting campaigns, in which the fledgling Japanese military consistently attained victory over the Russian forces arrayed against them, were unexpected by world observers. These victories, as time transpired, would dramatically transform the balance of power in East Asia, resulting in a reassessment of Japan's recent entry onto the world stage. The embarrassing string of defeats inflamed the Russian people's dissatisfaction with their inefficient and corrupt Tsarist government, and proved a major cause of the Russian Revolution of 1905.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Meiji government embarked on an endeavor to assimilate Western ideas, technological advances and customs. By the late 19th century, Japan had emerged from isolation and transformed itself into a modernized industrial state in a remarkably short time. The Japanese wished to preserve their sovereignty and to be recognized as an equal with the Western powers.
Russia, a major Imperial power, had ambitions in the East. By the 1890s it had extended its realm across Central Asia to Afghanistan, absorbing local states in the process. The Russian Empire stretched from Poland in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the East. With its construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway to the port of Vladivostok, Russia hoped to further consolidate its influence and presence in the region. This was precisely what Japan feared, as they regarded Korea (and to a lesser extent Manchuria) as a protective buffer.
The Japanese government regarded Korea, which was close to Japan, as an essential part of its national security; Japan's population explosion and economic needs were also factored into Japanese foreign policy. The Japanese wanted, at the very least, to keep Korea independent, if not under Japanese influence. Japan's subsequent victory over China during the First Sino-Japanese War led to the Treaty of Shimonoseki under which China abandoned its own suzerainty over Korea and ceded Taiwan, Pescadores and the Liaodong Peninsula (Port Arthur) to Japan.
However, the Russians, having their own ambitions in the region persuaded Germany and France to apply pressure on Japan. Through the Triple Intervention, Japan relinquished its claim on the Liaodong Peninsula for an increased financial indemnity.
In December 1897, a Russian fleet appeared off Port Arthur. After three months, in 1898, a convention was agreed between China and Russia by which Russia was leased Port Arthur, Talienwan and the surrounding waters. It was further agreed that the convention could be extended by mutual agreement. The Russians clearly believed that would be the case for they lost no time in occupation and in fortifying Port Arthur, their sole warm-water port on the Pacific coast, and of great strategic value. A year later, in order to consolidate their position, the Russians began a new railway from Harbin through Mukden to Port Arthur. The development of the railway was a contributory factor towards the Boxer Rebellion and the railway stations at Tiehling and Lioyang were burnt. The Russians also began to make inroads into Korea, by 1898 they acquired mining and forestry concessions near Yalu and Tumen rivers, causing the Japanese much anxiety. Japan decided to strike before the Trans-Siberian Railway was complete.
The Russians and the Japanese were both part of the eight member international force which was sent in to quell the Boxer Rebellion and to relieve the international legations under siege in the Chinese capital. As with other member nations, the Russians sent troops into China, specifically Manchuria to protect its interests. Russia assured other powers that it would vacate the area after the crisis. However, by 1903 the Russians had not yet adhered to any timetable for withdrawal and actually strengthened their position in Manchuria.
The Japanese statesman, Itō Hirobumi, started to negotiate with the Russians. He believed that Japan was too weak to evict Russia militarily, so he proposed giving Russia control over Manchuria in exchange for Japanese control of northern Korea. Meanwhile, Japan and Britain had signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902, the British seeking to restrict naval competition by keeping the Russian Pacific seaports of Vladivostok and Port Arthur from their full use. The alliance with the British meant, in part, that if any nation allied itself with Russia during any war with Japan, then Britain would enter the war on Japan's side. Russia could no longer count on receiving help from either Germany or France without there being a danger of the British involvement with the war. With such an alliance, Japan felt free to commence hostilities, if necessary.
On 28 July 1903, the Japanese Minister at St. Petersburg was instructed to represent his country's view opposing Russia's consolidation plans over Manchuria. Trade-offs followed and the situation was reached on 13 January 1904 whereby Japan proposed a formula of Manchuria being outside her sphere of influence and sought in return a similar statement relating to Russia's discontinuing interest in Korea. By 4 February 1904, no formal reply had been forthcoming and on 6 February Kurino Shinichiro, the Japanese Minister, called on the Russian Foreign Minister, Count Lambsdorff, to take his leave. Japan severed diplomatic relations on 6 February 1904.
A "sense of urgency" within the Japanese government was now prevalent and they sought to acquire naval submarines from a "neutral" government as quickly as possible. Several months thereafter, the Imperial Japanese Navy purchased five Holland Type VII-P submarines from the American Electric Boat Company. They were assembled at Fore River Ship and Engine Company of Quincy, Massachusetts by December 1904. These first of five submarines were shipped to the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal under the direction of Arthur Leopold Busch. Busch was a naval architect and shipbuilder who was responsible for the IJN's first fleet of underwater craft – delivered and (reassembled) under his direction on behalf of the Electric Boat Company in 1905. Another Electric Boat representative, Frank Cable was sent to Japan in the summer of 1905 to train the IJN (officers) in the handling and operation of these underwater naval craft.
Japan issued a declaration of war on 8 February 1904. However, three hours before Japan's declaration of war was received by the Russian Government, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Russian Far East Fleet at Port Arthur. Tsar Nicholas II was stunned by news of the attack. He could not believe that Japan would commit an act of war without a formal declaration, and had been assured by his ministers that the Japanese would not fight. Russia declared war on Japan eight days later. However, the requirement to declare war before commencing hostilities was not made international law until after the war had ended in October 1907, effective from 26 January 1910. Montenegro also declared war against Japan as a gesture of moral support for Russia out of gratitude for Russian support in Montenegro's struggles against the Ottoman Empire. However, due to logistical reasons and distance, Montenegro's contribution to the war effort was limited to those Montenegrins who served in the Russian armed forces.
Port Arthur, on the Liaodong Peninsula in the south of Manchuria, had been fortified into a major naval base by the Imperial Russian Army. Since it needed to control the sea in order to fight a war on the Asian mainland, Japan's first military objective was to neutralize the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.
On the night of 8 February 1904, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo opened the war with a surprise torpedo boat attack on the Russian ships at Port Arthur. The attack badly damaged the Tsesarevich and Retvizan, the heaviest battleships in Russia's far Eastern theater, and the 6,600 ton cruiser Pallada. These attacks developed into the Battle of Port Arthur the next morning. A series of indecisive naval engagements followed, in which Admiral Togo was unable to attack the Russian fleet successfully as it was protected by the shore batteries of the harbor, and the Russians were reluctant to leave the harbor for the open seas, especially after the death of Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov on 13 April 1904.
However, these engagements provided cover for a Japanese landing near Incheon in Korea. From Incheon the Japanese occupied Seoul and then the rest of Korea. By the end of April, the Imperial Japanese Army under Kuroki Itei was ready to cross the Yalu river into Russian-occupied Manchuria.
In contrast to the Japanese strategy of rapidly gaining ground to control Manchuria, Russian strategy focused on fighting delaying actions to gain time for reinforcements to arrive via the long Trans-Siberian railway which was at the time incomplete near Irkutsk. On 1 May 1904, the Battle of Yalu River became the first major land battle of the war, when Japanese troops stormed a Russian position after an unopposed river crossing. Japanese troops proceeded to land at several points on the Manchurian coast, and, in a series of engagements, drove the Russians back towards Port Arthur. These battles, including the Battle of Nanshan on 25 May 1904, were marked by heavy Japanese losses from attacking entrenched Russian positions, but the Russians maintained their focus on defending, and did not counterattack.
The Japanese attempted to deny the Russians use of Port Arthur. During the night of 13 February – 14 February, the Japanese attempted to block the entrance to Port Arthur by sinking several cement-filled steamers in the deep water channel to the port, but they sank too deep to be effective. Another similar attempt to block the harbor entrance during the night of 3–4 May also failed. In March, the charismatic Vice Admiral Makarov had taken command of the First Russian Pacific Squadron with the intention of breaking out of the Port Arthur blockade.
On 12 April 1904, two Russian pre-dreadnought battleships, the flagship Petropavlovsk and the Pobieda slipped out of port but struck Japanese mines off Port Arthur. The Petropavlovsk sank almost immediately, while the Pobieda had to be towed back to port for extensive repairs. Admiral Makarov, the single most effective Russian naval strategist of the war, had perished on the battleship Petropavlovsk.
On 15 April 1904, the Russian government made overtures threatening to seize the British war correspondents who were taking the ship Haimun into warzones to report for the London-based Times newspaper, citing concerns about the possibility of the British giving away Russian positions to the Japanese fleet.
The Russians learned quickly, and soon employed the Japanese tactic of offensive minelaying. On 15 May 1904, two Japanese battleships, the Yashima and the Hatsuse, were lured into a recently laid Russian minefield off Port Arthur, each striking at least two mines. The Hatsuse sank within minutes, taking 450 sailors with her, while the Yashima sank while under tow towards Korea for repairs. On June 23, 1904, a breakout attempt by the Russian squadron, now under the command of Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft failed. By the end of the month, Japanese artillery were firing shells into the harbor.
Japan began a long siege of Port Arthur. On 10 August 1904, the Russian fleet again attempted to break out and proceed to Vladivostok, but upon reaching the open sea were confronted by Admiral Togo's battleship squadron. Known to the Russians as the Battle of August 10, but more commonly referred to as the Battle of the Yellow Sea, battleships from both sides exchanged gunfire. The battle had the elements of a decisive battle, though Admiral Togo knew that another Russian battleship fleet would soon be sent to the Pacific. The Japanese had only one battleship fleet and Togo had already lost two battleships to Russian mines. The Russian and Japanese battleships continued to exchange gunfire, until the Russian flagship, the battleship Tsesarevich, received a direct hit on the bridge, killing the fleet commander, Admiral Vitgeft. At this, the Russian fleet turned around and headed back into Port Arthur. Though no warships were sunk by either side in the battle, the Russians were now back in port and the Japanese navy still had battleships to meet the new Russian fleet when it arrived.
As the siege of Port Arthur continued, Japanese troops tried numerous frontal assaults on the fortified hilltops overlooking the harbor, which were defeated with Japanese casualties in the thousands. Eventually, though, with the aid of several batteries of 11-inch (280 mm) Krupp howitzers, the Japanese were finally able to capture the key hilltop bastion in December 1904. From this vantage point, the long-range artillery was able to shell the Russian fleet, which was unable to retaliate effectively against the land-based artillery and was unable or unwilling to sortie out against the blockading fleet. Four Russian battleships and two cruisers were sunk in succession, with the fifth and last battleship being forced to scuttle a few weeks later. This constituted the sinking of all capital ships of the Russian fleet in the Pacific, and was likely the only example in military history when such a scale of devastation was achieved by land-based artillery against major warships.
Meanwhile, on land, attempts to relieve the besieged city by land also failed, and, after the Battle of Liaoyang in late August, the northern Russian force that may have been able to relieve Port Arthur retreated to Mukden (Shenyang).
Major General Anatoly Stessel, commander of the Port Arthur garrison, believed that the purpose of defending the city was lost after the fleet was destroyed. Several large underground mines were exploded in late December, resulting in the costly capture of a few more pieces of the defensive line. Still, the Russian defenders were effecting a disproportionate scale of casualties each time the Japanese attacked, and the garrison was still well-stocked with months of food and ammunition.
Despite this, Stessel decided to surrender to the surprised Japanese generals on 2 January 1905. He made this decision without consulting the other military staff present, or of the Tsar and military command, who all disagreed with the decision. Stessel was convicted by a court-martial in 1908 and sentenced to death for his incompetent defense and disobeying orders, though he was later pardoned.
Meanwhile, at sea, the Russians were preparing to reinforce the Far East Fleet by sending the Baltic Fleet, under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky The fleet sailed around the world from the Baltic Sea to China via the Cape of Good Hope. The Baltic Fleet would not reach the Far East until May 1905.
On 21 October 1904, while steaming past Great Britain (an ally of Japan but neutral in this war), vessels of the Russian Fleet nearly provoked war with Britain in the Dogger Bank incident by firing on British fishing boats that they mistook for enemy torpedo boats.
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. Both sides camped opposite each other along 60 to 70 miles (110 km) of front lines, south of Mukden.
The Russian Second Army under General Oskar Grippenberg, between January 25–29, 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, Grippenberg 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.
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. Both sides were well entrenched and were backed with hundreds of artillery pieces. After days of harsh fighting, added pressure from both 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 retreating Russian Manchurian Army formations disintegrated 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 it had not been decisive, and the final victory would depend on the navy.
The Russian Second Pacific Squadron (the renamed Baltic Fleet) sailed 18,000 miles (29,000 km) to relieve Port Arthur. The demoralizing news that Port Arthur had fallen reached the fleet while 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 very close to the Japanese home islands.
Admiral Togo was aware of the 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. They decided to take the shorter, riskier route between Korea and Japan. They travelled at night so they might not be discovered. Unfortunately for the Russians, one of their hospital ships exposed a light, which was sighted 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 the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits on 27 May–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 Sakhalin Islands chain to force the Russians to sue for peace.
Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Most were able to report on events from a perspective somewhat like what is now termed "embedded" positions within the land and naval forces of both Russia and Japan. These military attachés and other observers prepared voluminous 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 learned in part after World War I. From a 21st century perspective, it is now apparent that tactical lessons which were available to the observer nations were disregarded or not used in the 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.
The defeats of the Russian Army and Navy shook Russian confidence. Throughout 1905, the Imperial Russian government was rocked by revolution. Tsar Nicholas II elected to negotiate peace so he could concentrate on internal matters.
The American President Theodore Roosevelt offered to mediate, and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. Sergius Witte led the Russian delegation and Baron Komura, a graduate of Harvard, led the Japanese Delegation. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on 5 September 1905 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Witte became Russian Prime Minister the same year.
Russia recognized Korea as part of the Japanese sphere of influence and agreed to evacuate Manchuria. Japan would annex Korea in 1910, with scant protest from other powers.
Russia also signed over its 25-year leasehold rights to Port Arthur, including the naval base and the peninsula around it. Russia also ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan. It was regained by the USSR in 1952 under the Treaty of San Francisco following the Second World War. However, the cession of Southern Sakhalin to the USSR was not supported by the majority of Japanese politicians.
Sources do not agree on a precise number of deaths from the war because of lack of body counts for confirmation. The number of Japanese dead in combat is put at around 47,000 with around 80,000 if disease is included. Estimates of Russian dead range from around 40,000 to around 70,000. The total number of dead is generally stated at around 130,000. China suffered 20,000 civilian deaths, and financially the loss amounted to over 69 million taels worth of silver.
This was the first major victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European one. Russia's defeat had been met with shock both in the West and across the Far East. Japan's prestige rose greatly as it began to be considered a modern nation. Concurrently, Russia lost virtually its entire Pacific and Baltic fleets, and also lost some international esteem. This was particularly true in the eyes of Germany and Austria–Hungary; Russia was France and Serbia's ally, and that loss of prestige had a significant effect on Germany's future when planning for war with France, and Austria–Hungary's war with Serbia. The war caused many nations to underestimate Russian military capabilities in World War I.
In the absence of Russian competition and with the distraction of European nations during World War I, combined with the Great Depression which followed, the Japanese military began its efforts to dominate China and the rest of Asia, which eventually led to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, theatres of World War II.
Popular discontent in Russia after the war added more fuel to the already simmering Russian Revolution of 1905, an event Nicholas II of Russia had hoped to avoid entirely by taking intransigent negotiating stances prior to coming to the table at all. Twelve years later, that discontent boiled over into the February Revolution of 1917. In Poland, which Russia partitioned in the late 18th century, and where Russian rule already caused two major uprisings, the population was so restless that an army of 250,000–300,000 – larger than the one facing the Japanese – had to be stationed to put down the unrest. Notably, some political leaders of Polish insurrection movement (in particular, Józef Piłsudski) sent emissaries to Japan to collaborate on sabotage and intelligence gathering within the Russian Empire and even plan a Japanese-aided uprising.
In Russia, the defeat of 1905 led in the short term to a reform of the Russian military that allowed it to face Germany in World War I. However, the revolts at home following the war planted the seeds that presaged the Russian Revolution of 1917. The war probably did more good for Russia than bad. It caused Russia to get in gear, so that by 1911, its industry rivaled that of the United States. It was on a plan that would boost its military industry to a level equal to Germany, but that plan was unfortunately interrupted in 1914, when World War I began.
Although the war had ended in a victory for Japan, there was a noteworthy gap between Japanese public opinion and the very restrained peace terms which negotiated at the war's end. Widespread discontent spread through the populace upon the announcement of the treaty terms. Riots erupted in major cities in Japan. Two specific demands, expected from such a costly victory, were especially lacking: territorial gains and monetary reparations to Japan. The peace accord led to feelings of distrust, as the Japanese had intended to retain all of Sakhalin Island, but they were forced to settle for half of it after being pressured by the US.
Russia had lost two of its three fleets. Only its Black Sea Fleet remained, and this was the result of an earlier treaty that had prevented the fleet from leaving the Black Sea. Japan became the sixth-most powerful naval force, while the Russian navy declined to one barely stronger than that of Austria–Hungary. The actual costs of the war were large enough to have affected the Russian economy; and despite grain exports, the nation developed an external balance of payments deficit. The cost of military re-equipment and re-expansion after 1905 pushed the economy further into deficit, although the size of the deficit was obscured.
A lock of Admiral Nelson's hair was given to the Imperial Japanese Navy from the Royal Navy after the war to commemorate the victory of the Battle of Tsushima; which was in tune with Britain's victory at Trafalgar in 1805. It is still on display at Kyouiku Sankoukan, a public museum maintained by the Japan Self-Defense Force.
The Japanese were on the offensive for most of the war and used massed infantry human wave attacks against defensive positions, which would become the standard of all European armies during World War I. Battles during the Russo-Japanese War were a precursor to trench warfare of World War I, in which machine guns and artillery had taken their toll on Japanese troops. Jakob Meckel, a German military advisor sent to Japan, had a tremendous impact on the development of the Japanese military training, tactics, strategy and organization. His reforms were credited with Japan's overwhelming victory over China in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. However, his over-reliance on the use of infantry in offensive campaigns also led to the large number of Japanese casualties.
Military and economic exhaustion affected both countries. Japanese historians consider this war to be a turning point for Japan, and a key to understanding the reasons why Japan may have failed militarily and politically later on. The acrimony was felt at every level of Japanese society and it became the consensus within Japan that their nation had been treated as the defeated power during the peace conference. As time went on, this feeling, coupled with the sense of "arrogance" of becoming a Great Power, grew and added to their growing hostility towards the West and fueled their own military and imperial ambitions, which would culminate in Japan's invasion of East, Southeast, and South Asia in World War II in an attempt to create their own great colonial empire in the name of creating the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Only five years after the war, Japan de jure annexed Korea as its colonial empire, and invaded Manchuria in the Mukden Incident 21 years after in 1931. As a result, most Chinese historians note the war as a key development of Japanese militarism.
Not only Russia and Japan were affected by the war. As a consequence, the British Admiralty enlarged its docks at Auckland, Bombay, Freemantle, Hong Kong, Simonstown, Singapore and Sydney. The 1904–1905 war confirmed the direction of the admiralty's thinking in tactical terms while undermining its strategic grasp of a changing world. For example, the Admiralty's tactical orthodoxy assumed that a naval battle would imitate the conditions of stationery combat, and that ships would engage in one long line sailing on parallel courses; but in reality, more flexible tactical thinking would be required in the next war. A firing ship and its target would maneuver independently at various ranges and at various speeds and in convergent or divergent courses.
World attention to this military conflict inspired unanticipated consequences in art and literature: