Trans-Siberian Railway

Russian Eastern expansion

1890 Jan 1
, Kamchatka Peninsula

Tsarist Russia, as 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. In the Tsushima incident of 1861 Russia had directly assaulted Japanese territory.

The Battle of the Yalu River

First Sino-Japanese War

1894 Jul 25 - 1895 Apr 17
, China

The first major war the Empire of Japan fought following the Meiji Restoration was against China, from 1894-1895. The war revolved around the issue of control and influence over Korea under the rule of the Joseon dynasty. From the 1880s onward, there had been vigorous competition for influence in Korea between China and Japan. The Korean court was prone to factionalism, and at the time was badly divided between a reformist camp that was pro-Japanese and a more conservative faction that was pro-Chinese. In 1884, a pro-Japanese coup attempt was put down by Chinese troops, and a "residency" under General Yuan Shikai was established in Seoul. A peasant rebellion led by the Tonghak religious movement led to a request by the Korean government for the Qing dynasty to send in troops to stabilize the country. The Empire of Japan responded by sending their own force to Korea to crush the Tonghak and installed a puppet government in Seoul. China objected and war ensued. Hostilities proved brief, with Japanese ground troops routing Chinese forces on the Liaodong Peninsula and nearly destroying the Chinese Beiyang Fleet in the Battle of the Yalu River. Japan and China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded the Liaodong Peninsula and the island of Taiwan to Japan. 

Triple Intervention

Triple Intervention

1895 Apr 23
, Liaodong Peninsula

Per the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan was awarded the Liaodong Peninsula including the harbor city of Port Arthur, which it had conquered from China. Immediately after the terms of the treaty became public, Russia—with its own designs and sphere of influence in China—expressed concern about Japanese acquisition of the Liaodong Peninsula and the possible impact of the terms of the treaty on the stability of China. Russia persuaded France and Germany to apply diplomatic pressure on Japan for return of the territory to China in exchange for a larger indemnity.

Russia had the most to gain out of the Triple Intervention. In the preceding years, Russia had been slowly increasing its influence in the Far East. The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the acquisition of a warm-water port would enable Russia to consolidate its presence in the region and further expand into Asia and the Pacific. Russia had not expected that Japan would be victorious against China. Port Arthur falling into Japanese hands would undermine its own desperate need for a warm-water port in the East.

France was obligated to join Russia under the 1892 treaty. Although French bankers did have financial interests in Russia (especially railroads), France had no territorial ambitions in Manchuria, since its sphere of influence was in southern China. The French actually had cordial relations with the Japanese: French military advisors had been sent to train the Imperial Japanese Army and a number of Japanese ships had been built in French shipyards. However, France did not wish to be diplomatically isolated, as it had been previously, especially given the growing power of Germany.

Germany had two reasons to support Russia: firstly, its desire to draw Russia's attention to the east and away from itself and secondly, to enlist Russia's support in establishing German territorial concessions in China. Germany hoped that support for Russia would encourage Russia, in turn, to support Germany's colonial ambitions, which were especially vexed since Germany had only recently formed itself into a unified nation and had arrived late in the colonial "game."

Kaiser Wilhelm II used Yellow Peril ideology as geopolitical justification for Imperial German and European imperialism in China.

Yellow Peril

1897 Jan 1
, Germany

The Yellow Peril is a racial color metaphor that depicts the peoples of East and Southeast Asia as an existential danger to the Western world. As a psychocultural menace from the Eastern world, fear of the Yellow Peril is racial, not national, fear derived not from concern with a specific source of danger from any one people or country, but from a vaguely ominous, existential fear of the faceless, nameless hordes of yellow people. As a form of xenophobia, Yellow Terror is the fear of the Oriental, nonwhite Other; and a racialist fantasy presented in the book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920) by Lothrop Stoddard.

The racist ideology of the Yellow Peril derives from a "core imagery of apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers", which developed during the 19th century as Western imperialist expansion adduced East Asians as the Yellow Peril. In the late 19th century, the Russian sociologist Jacques Novikow coined the term in the essay "Le Péril Jaune" ("The Yellow Peril", 1897), which Kaiser Wilhelm II (r. 1888–1918) used to encourage the European empires to invade, conquer, and colonize China. To that end, using the Yellow Peril ideology, the Kaiser portrayed the Japanese and the Asian victory against the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) as an Asian racial threat to white Western Europe, and also exposes China and Japan as in alliance to conquer, subjugate, and enslave the Western world.

Russian encroachment

Russian encroachment

1897 Dec 1
, Lüshunkou District

In December 1897, a Russian fleet appeared off Port Arthur. After three months, in 1898, China and Russia negotiated a convention by which China leased (to Russia) Port Arthur, Talienwan and the surrounding waters. The two parties further agreed that the convention could be extended by mutual agreement. The Russians clearly expected such an extension, for they lost no time in occupying the territory and in fortifying Port Arthur, their sole warm-water port on the Pacific coast and of great strategic value. A year later, to consolidate their position, the Russians began to build a new railway from Harbin through Mukden to Port Arthur, the South Manchurian Railroad. The development of the railway became a contributory factor to the Boxer Rebellion, when Boxer forces burned the railway stations.

The Russians also began to make inroads into Korea. A large point of Russia's growing influence in Korea was Gojong's internal exile to the Russian legation. A pro-Russian cabinet emerged in the Korean Empire. In 1901, Tsar Nicholas II told Prince Henry of Prussia, "I do not want to seize Korea but under no circumstances can I allow Japan to become firmly established there. That will be a casus belli." By 1898 they had acquired mining and forestry concessions near the Yalu and Tumen rivers, causing the Japanese much anxiety.

Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900.

Boxer Rebellion

1899 Oct 18 - 1901 Sep 7
, China

The Russians and the Japanese both contributed troops to the Eight-Nation Alliance sent in 1900 to quell the Boxer Rebellion and to relieve the international legations besieged in the Chinese capital, Beijing. Russia had already sent 177,000 soldiers to Manchuria, nominally to protect its railways under construction. Though the Qing imperial army and the Boxer rebels united to fight against the invasion, they were quickly overrun and ejected from Manchuria. After the Boxer Rebellion, 100,000 Russian soldiers were stationed in Manchuria. The Russian troops settled in and despite assurances they would vacate the area after the crisis, by 1903 the Russians had not established a timetable for withdrawal and had actually strengthened their position in Manchuria.

Katsura Taro 桂太郎 - Prime Minister of Japan from 1901 to 1906.

Pre-war negotiations

1901 Jan 1 - 1903 Jul 28
, Japan

The Japanese statesman Itō Hirobumi started to negotiate with the Russians. He regarded Japan as too weak to evict the Russians militarily, so he proposed giving Russia control over Manchuria in exchange for Japanese control of northern Korea. Of the five Genrō (elder statesmen) who made up the Meiji oligarchy, Itō Hirobumi and Count Inoue Kaoru opposed the idea of war against Russia on financial grounds, while Katsura Tarō, Komura Jutarō and Field Marshal Yamagata Aritomo favored war. 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. Japan's alliance with the British meant, in part, that if any nation allied itself with Russia during any war against 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 the danger of British involvement in the war. With such an alliance, Japan felt free to commence hostilities if necessary.

Despite previous assurances that Russia would completely withdraw from Manchuria the forces it had sent to crush the Boxer Rebellion by 8 April 1903, that day passed with no reduction in Russian forces in that region. On 28 July 1903 Kurino Shin'ichirō, the Japanese minister in Saint Petersburg, was instructed to present his country's view opposing Russia's consolidation plans in Manchuria. On 3 August 1903 the Japanese minister handed their proposal to serve as the basis for further negotiations. On 3 October 1903 the Russian minister to Japan, Roman Rosen, presented to the Japanese government the Russian counter proposal.

During the Russian–Japanese talks, the Japanese historian Hirono Yoshihiko noted, "once negotiations commenced between Japan and Russia, Russia scaled back its demands and claims regarding Korea bit by bit, making a series of concessions that Japan regarded as serious compromises on Russia's part". The war might not have broken out had not the issues of Korea and Manchuria become linked. The Korean and Manchurian issues had become linked as the Prime Minister of Japan, Katsura Tarō, decided if war did come, that Japan was more likely to have the support of the United States and Great Britain if the war could be presented as a struggle for free trade against the highly protectionist Russian empire, in which case, Manchuria, which was the larger market than Korea, was more likely to engage Anglo-American sympathies. Throughout the war, Japanese propaganda presented the recurring theme of Japan as a "civilized" power (that supported free trade and would implicitly allow foreign businesses into the resource-rich region of Manchuria) vs. Russia the "uncivilized" power (that was protectionist and wanted to keep the riches of Manchuria all to itself).

The 1890s and 1900s marked the height of the "Yellow Peril" propaganda by the German government, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II often wrote letters to his cousin Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, praising him as the "saviour of the white race" and urging Russia forward in Asia. A recurring theme of Wilhelm's letters to Nicholas was that "Holy Russia" had been "chosen" by God to save the "entire white race" from the "Yellow Peril", and that Russia was "entitled" to annex all of Korea, Manchuria, and northern China up to Beijing. Nicholas had been prepared to compromise with Japan, but after receiving a letter from Wilhelm attacking him as a coward for his willingness to compromise with the Japanese (who, Wilhelm never ceasing reminding Nicholas, represented the "Yellow Peril") for the sake of peace, became more obstinate.

When Nicholas replied that he still wanted peace. Nevertheless, Tokyo believed that Russia was not serious about seeking a peaceful solution to the dispute. On 21 December 1903, the Tarō cabinet voted to go to war against Russia. By 4 February 1904, no formal reply had been received from Saint Petersburg. On 6 February the Japanese minister to Russia, Kurino Shin'ichirō, was recalled, and Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia.

Tadasu Hayashi, Japanese signatory of the alliance

Anglo-Japanese Alliance

1902 Jan 30
, England

The first Anglo-Japanese Alliance was an alliance between Britain and Japan, signed in January 1902. The main threat for both sides was from Russia. France was concerned about war with Britain and, in cooperation with Britain, abandoned its ally, Russia, to avoid the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. However, Britain siding with Japan angered the United States and some British dominions, whose opinion of the Empire of Japan worsened and gradually became hostile.

The Japanese destroyer Sasanami on 10 March 1904, with the Russian Stereguchtschi in tow, shortly before the latter sank.

Declaration of war

1904 Feb 8
, Lüshunkou District

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, and without warning, 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. Japan, in response, made reference to the Russian attack on Sweden in 1808 without declaration of war.

Postcard displaying the Battle of Chemulpo Bay

Battle of Chemulpo Bay

1904 Feb 9
, Incheon

Chemulpo also had strategic significance, as it was the main port for the Korean capital of Seoul, and was also the main invasion route used previously by Japanese forces in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894. However, Chemulpo, with its wide tidal bore, extensive mudflats, and narrow, winding channels, posed a number of tactical challenges for both attackers and defenders.

The Battle of Chemulpo was a military victory for the Japanese. Russian casualties on the Varyag were heavy. All of Varyag's twelve 6 in (150 mm) guns, all of her 12-pounders, and all of her 3-pounders were out of action, she took 5 serious hits at or below the waterline. Her upper works and ventilators were riddled, and her crew had put out at least five serious fires. Of her crew with a nominal strength of 580, 33 were killed and 97 wounded. Most serious cases among the Russian wounded were treated at the Red Cross hospital at Chemulpo. The Russian crews—except for the badly wounded—returned to Russia on neutral warships and were treated as heroes. Although severely damaged, Varyag—not blown up—was later raised by the Japanese and incorporated into the Imperial Japanese Navy as the training ship Soya.

Pobeda (right) and the protected cruiser Pallada sunk in Port Arthur

Failed Russian breakout

1904 Apr 12
, Lüshunkou District

On 12 April 1904, two Russian pre-dreadnought battleships, the flagship Petropavlovsk and the Pobeda, slipped out of port but struck Japanese mines off Port Arthur. The Petropavlovsk sank almost immediately, while the Pobeda had to be towed back to port for extensive repairs. Admiral Makarov, the single most effective Russian naval strategist of the war, died on the battleship Petropavlovsk.

Japanese troops landing on Nampo

Battle of the Yalu River

1904 Apr 30 - May 1
, Uiju County

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 incomplete near Irkutsk at the time. On 1 May 1904, the Battle of Yalu River became the first major land battle of the war; Japanese troops stormed a Russian position after crossing the river. The defeat of the Russian Eastern Detachment removed the perception that the Japanese would be an easy enemy, that the war would be short, and that Russia would be the overwhelming victor. This was also the first battle in decades to be an Asian victory over a European power and marked Russia's inability to match Japan's military prowess. 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. 

Japanese assault on the entrenched Russian forces, 1904 at the Battle of Nanshan

Battle of Nanshan

1904 May 24 - May 26
, Jinzhou District

After the Japanese victory at the Yalu River, the Japanese Second Army commanded by General Yasukata Oku landed on the Liaotung peninsula, only some 60 miles from Port Arthur. The Japanese intention was to break through this Russian defensive position, capture the port of Dalny, and lay siege to Port Arthur.

On 24 May 1904, during a heavy thunderstorm, the Japanese Fourth Division under the command of Lieutenant General Ogawa Mataji attacked the walled town of Chinchou, just north of Nanzan hill. Despite being defended by no more than 400 men with antiquated artillery, the Fourth Division failed on two attempts to breach its gates. Two battalions from the First Division attacked independently at 05:30 on 25 May 1904, finally breaching the defenses and taking the town.

On 26 May 1904, Oku began with prolonged artillery barrage from Japanese gunboats offshore, followed by infantry assaults by all three of his divisions. The Russians, with mines, Maxim machine guns and barbed wire obstacles, inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese during repeated assaults. By 18:00, after nine attempts, the Japanese had failed to overrun the firmly entrenched Russian positions. Oku had committed all of his reserves, and both sides had used up most of their artillery ammunition.

Finding his calls for reinforcement unanswered, Colonel Tretyakov was amazed to find that the uncommitted reserve regiments were in full retreat and that his remaining ammunition reserves had been blown up under orders of General Fok. Fok, paranoid of a possible Japanese landing between his position and the safety of Port Arthur, was panicked by a flanking attack by the decimated Japanese Fourth Division along the west coast. In his rush to flee the battle, Fok had neglected to tell Tretyakov of the order to retreat, and Tretyakov thus found himself in the precarious position of being encircled, with no ammunition and no reserve force available for a counter-attack. Tretyakov had no choice but to order his troops to fall back to the second defensive line. By 19:20, the Japanese flag flew from the summit of Nanshan Hill. Tretyakov, who had fought well and who had lost only 400 men during the battle, lost 650 more men in his unsupported retreat back to the main defensive lines around Port Arthur.

Due to lack of ammunition, the Japanese could not move from Nanshan until 30 May 1904. To their amazement, they found that the Russians had made no effort to hold the strategically valuable and easily defendable port of Dalny, but had retreated all the way back to Port Arthur. Although the town had been looted by the local civilians, the harbor equipment, warehouses and railway yards were all left intact.

Battle of Te-li-Ssu

Battle of Te-li-Ssu

1904 Jun 14 - Jun 15
, Wafangdian

After the Battle of Nanshan, Japanese General Oku Yasukata, commander of the Japanese Second Army, occupied and repaired the piers at Dalny, which had been abandoned almost intact by the fleeing Russians. Leaving the 3rd Army to lay siege to Port Arthur, and having reports of the southern movement of Russian forces confirmed by cavalry scouts, Oku started his army north on 13 June, following the line of the railway south of Liaoyang. A week before the engagement, Kuropatkin sent Stackelberg southwards with orders to recapture Nanshan and advance on Port Arthur, but to avoid any decisive action against superior forces. The Russians, believing the Japanese Second Army's objective to be the capture of Port Arthur, moved their command facilities to Telissu. Stackelberg entrenched his forces, positioning his troops astride the railway to the south of the town, while Lieutenant General Simonov, commanding the 19th Cavalry Squadron, took the extreme right of the front. Oku intended to attack frontally with the 3rd and 5th Divisions, one on each side of the railway, while the 4th division was to advance on the Russian right flank down the Fuchou valley. 

On 14 June, Oku advanced his forces northward toward the entrenched Russian positions near the village of Telissu. Stackelberg had reasonable prospects for victory that day. The Russians had possession of the high ground and field artillery. However, rather than cooperating with the defenders by charging straight up the valley into the Russian defenses, Oku advanced the 3rd and 5th Divisions along the center as a feint, while maneuvering the 4th Division rapidly to the west in order to envelop the Russian right flank. Although Russian outposts detected this move, misty weather prevented them from using their heliographs to warn Stakelberg in time.

The battle began with an artillery engagement, which demonstrated the superiority of the Japanese guns not only in number but also in accuracy. The new Russian Putilov M-1903 field gun was first introduced in this battle, but it was ineffective due to lack of training of the crews and the outdated conceptions of the senior artillery officers. The better Japanese artillery seem to have had a significant effect throughout the battle. As the Japanese divisions in the center commenced skirmishing, Stakelberg judged that the enemy threat would come against his left flank, rather than his right flank, and thus committed his main reserve in that direction. It was a costly mistake.

Skirmishing continued until late night, and Oku decided to launch his main assault at dawn. Likewise, Stackelberg had also determined that the morning of 15 June was the time for his own decisive counter-stroke. Incredibly, Stackelberg issued only verbal orders to his field commanders and left the actual time of the attack vague. Individual commanders, not knowing when to launch the attack, and without any written orders, did not take action until around 07:00. As only about a third of the First East Siberian Rifle Division under Lieutenant General Aleksandr Gerngross committed to the attack, it surprised the Japanese 3rd Division but did not prevail, and soon collapsed in failure. Before long Stackelberg received panicked reports of a strong Japanese attack on his exposed right flank. To avoid envelopment, the Russians began to fall back, abandoning their precious artillery as Oku's 4th and 5th Divisions pressed their advantage. Stakelberg issued the order to retreat at 11:30, but fierce fighting continued through 14:00. Russian reinforcements arrived by train just as the Japanese artillery was targeting the train station. By 15:00, Stackelberg was facing a major defeat, but a sudden torrential rainstorm slowed the Japanese advance and enabled him to extricate his beleaguered forces towards Mukden. The only Russian offensive to relieve Port Arthur thus came to a disastrous end for Russia.

Due to a lack of locomotives, teams of 16 Japanese soldiers worked to haul freight cars north to Tashihchiao

Battle of Tashihchiao

1904 Jul 24 - Jul 25
, Dashiqiao

The combat began at 05:30 on 24 July 1904, with a long artillery duel. As temperatures soared past 34 °C, the Russians began to suffer from the effects of the heat, many collapsing from heat stroke due to their thick winter uniforms. A nervous Stakelberg repeatedly asked Zarubaiev about withdrawing; however, Zarubaiev advised that he preferred to withdraw under cover of darkness and not during the middle of an artillery barrage. Japanese infantry began probing attacks by noon.

However, by 15:30, the Japanese had suffered heavy casualties due to unexpectedly strong Russian artillery fire, and had only been successful in dislodging the Russians from some entrenched forward positions. Although outnumbered, the Russian guns had a longer range and higher rate of fire. Both side committed their reserves by 16:00, with combat continuing until 19:30. By the end of the day, the Japanese had only a single regiment remaining in reserve, whereas the Russians still had six battalions. The failure of the Japanese offensive in face of superior Russian artillery boosted the morale of the defenders. However, even as the Japanese were preparing to renew their offensive the following day, the Russian were preparing to retreat.

After nightfall on 24 July, Lieutenant General Ueda Arisawa, the commander of the Japanese 5th Division expressed his shame at the performance of his division, and asked General Oku that he be allowed to carry out a night attack. Permission was granted, and after the moon provided enough light at 22:00, the 5th Division moved on the Russian left flank, quickly overrunning the Russian second and third defensive lines. At 03:00, the Japanese 3rd Division also made a night attack, and soon captured key hills which had formed the most important point on the Russian defensive line the previous day. Japanese artillery opened fire at 06:40, but the artillery fire was not returned. The Japanese Sixth Division began moving forward, followed by the Japanese Fourth Division at 08:00 hours. By 13:00, the Japanese had occupied the remaining Russian positions and the town of Tashihchiao was in Japanese hands. Stakelberg had decided to withdraw immediately as soon as the initial Japanese night attack had begun, and he again conducted a brilliant retreat under fire.

Wrecked ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet, which were later salvaged by the Japanese navy

Siege of Port Arthur

1904 Aug 1 - 1905 Jan 2
, Lüshunkou District

The siege of Port Arthur commenced in April 1904. Japanese troops tried numerous frontal assaults on the fortified hilltops overlooking the harbour, which were defeated with Japanese casualties in the thousands. With the aid of several batteries of 11-inch (280 mm) howitzers, the Japanese were eventually able to capture the key hilltop bastion in December 1904. With a spotter at the end of a phone line located at this vantage point, the long-range artillery was able to shell the Russian fleet, which was unable to retaliate against the land-based artillery invisible over the other side of hilltop, and was unable or unwilling to sail 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. Thus, all capital ships of the Russian fleet in the Pacific were sunk. This is probably the only example in military history when such a scale of devastation was achieved by land-based artillery against major warships.

View of Japanese battleships in action, the Shikishima, Fuji, Asahi and Mikasa, taken during the Battle of the Yellow Sea.

Battle of the Yellow Sea

1904 Aug 10
, Yellow Sea

With the death of Admiral Stepan Makarov during the siege of Port Arthur in April 1904, Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft was appointed commander of the battle fleet and was ordered to make a sortie from Port Arthur and deploy his force to Vladivostok. Flying his flag in the French-built pre-dreadnought Tsesarevich, Vitgeft proceeded to lead his six battleships, four cruisers, and 14 torpedo boat destroyers into the Yellow Sea in the early morning of 10 August 1904. Waiting for him was Admiral Tōgō and his fleet of four battleships, 10 cruisers, and 18 torpedo boat destroyers.

At approximately 12:15, the battleship fleets obtained visual contact with each other, and at 13:00 with Tōgō crossing Vitgeft's T, they commenced main battery fire at a range of about eight miles, the longest ever conducted up to that time. For about thirty minutes the battleships pounded one another until they had closed to less than four miles and began to bring their secondary batteries into play. At 18:30, a hit from one of Tōgō's battleships struck Vitgeft's flagship's bridge, killing him instantly.

With the Tsesarevich's helm jammed and their admiral killed in action, she turned from her battle line, causing confusion among her fleet. However, Tōgō was determined to sink the Russian flagship and continued pounding her, and it was saved only by the gallant charge of the American-built Russian battleship Retvizan, whose captain successfully drew away Tōgō's heavy fire from the Russian flagship. Knowing of the impending battle with the battleship reinforcements arriving from Russia (the Baltic Fleet), Tōgō chose not to risk his battleships by pursuing his enemy as they turned about and headed back into Port Arthur, thus ending naval history's longest-range gunnery duel up to that time and the first modern clash of steel battleship fleets on the high seas.

Battle of Liao Yang | ©Fritz Neumann

Battle of Liaoyang

1904 Aug 25 - Sep 5
, Liaoyang

When the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) landed on the Liaodong Peninsula, Japanese General Ōyama Iwao divided his forces. The IJA 3rd Army under Lieutenant General Nogi Maresuke was assigned to attack the Russian naval base at Port Arthur to the south, while the IJA 1st Army, IJA 2nd Army and IJA 4th Army would converge on the city of Liaoyang. Russian General Aleksey Kuropatkin planned to counter the Japanese advance with a series of planned withdrawals, intended to trade territory for the time necessary for enough reserves to arrive from Russia to give him a decisive numerical advantage over the Japanese. However, this strategy was not in favor with the Russian Viceroy Yevgeni Ivanovich Alekseyev, who was pushing for a more aggressive stance and quick victory over Japan. Both sides viewed Liaoyang as a site suitable for a decisive battle which would decide the outcome of the war.

The battle began on 25 August with a Japanese artillery barrage, followed by the advance of the Japanese Imperial Guards Division under Lieutenant General Hasegawa Yoshimichi against the right flank of the 3rd Siberian Army Corps. The attack was defeated by the Russians under General Bilderling largely due to the superior weight of the Russian artillery and the Japanese took over a thousand casualties. On the night of 25 August, the IJA 2nd Division and IJA 12th Division under Major General Matsunaga Masatoshi engaged the 10th Siberian Army Corps to the east of Liaoyang. Fierce night fighting occurred around the slopes of a mountain called "Peikou", which fell to the Japanese by the evening of 26 August. Kuropatin ordered a retreat under the cover of heavy rain and fog, to the outermost defensive line surrounding Liaoyang, which he had reinforced with his reserves. Also on 26 August, the advance of the IJA 2nd Army and IJA 4th Army was stalled Russian General Zarubaev before the outmost defensive line to the south.

However, on 27 August, much to the surprise of the Japanese and consternation of his commanders, Kuropatkin did not order a counterattack, but instead ordered that the outer defense perimeter be abandoned, and that all Russian forces should pull back to the second defensive line. This line was approximately 7 miles (11 km) south of Liaoyang, and included several small hills which had been heavily fortified, most notably a 210-meter tall hill known to the Russians as "Cairn Hill". The shorter lines were easier for the Russians to defend, but played into Ōyama’s plans to encircle and destroy the Russian Manchurian Army. Ōyama ordered Kuroki to the north, where he cut the railroad line and the Russian escape route, while Oku and Nozu were ordered to prepare for a direct frontal assault to the south.

The next phase of the battle began on 30 August with a renewed Japanese offensive on all fronts. However, again due to superior artillery and their extensive fortifications, the Russians repulsed the attacks on 30 August and 31 August, causing considerable losses to the Japanese. Again to the consternation of his generals, Kuropatkin would not authorize a counter-attack. Kuropatkin continued to overestimate the size of the attacking forces, and would not agree to commit his reserve forces to the battle.

On 1 September, the Japanese 2nd Army had taken Cairn Hill and approximately half of the Japanese 1st Army had crossed the Taitzu River about eight miles east of the Russian lines. Kuropatkin then decided to abandon his strong defensive line, and made an orderly retreat to the innermost of the three defensive lines surrounding Liaoyang. This enabled the Japanese forces to advance to a position where they were within range to shell the city, including its crucial railway station. This prompted Kuropatkin to at last authorize a counter-attack, with the aim of destroying the Japanese forces across the Taitzu River and securing a hill known to the Japanese as "Manjuyama", to the east of the city. Kuroki had only two complete divisions to the east of the city, and Kuropatkin decided to commit the entire 1st Siberian Army Corps and 10th Siberian Army Corps and thirteen battalions under Major General N. V. Orlov (the equivalent of five divisions) against him. However, the messenger sent by Kuropatkin with orders got lost, and Orlov’s outnumbered men panicked at the sight of the Japanese divisions.

Meanwhile, the 1st Siberian Army Corps under General Georgii Stackelberg arrived on the afternoon of 2 September, exhausted by a long march through the mud and torrential rains. When Stackelberg asked General Mishchenko for assistance from two brigades of his Cossacks, Mishchenko claimed to have orders to go elsewhere and abandoned him. The night assault of Japanese forces on Manjuyama was initially successful, but in the confusion, three Russian regiments fired upon each other, and by morning the hill was back in Japanese hands. Meanwhile, on 3 September Kuropatkin received a report from General Zarubayev on the inner defensive line that he was running short on ammunition. This report was quickly followed by a report by Stackelberg that his troops were too tired to continue the counter-attack. When a report arrived that the Japanese First Army was poised to cut off Liaoyang from the north, Kuropatkin then decided to abandon the city, and to regroup at Mukden a further 65 kilometres (40 mi) to the north. The retreat began on 3 September and was completed by 10 September.

Japanese Troops in the Battle of Shaho.

Battle of Shaho

1904 Oct 5 - Oct 17
, Shenyang

After the Battle of Liaoyang the situation for General Alexei Kuropatkin, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armies in Manchuria became increasingly unfavorable. Kuropatkin had reported a victory at Liaoyang to Tsar Nicholas II in order to secure reinforcements brought in by the newly completed Trans-Siberian Railroad, but the morale of his forces was low, and the besieged Russian garrison and fleet at Port Arthur remained in danger. Should Port Arthur fall, General Nogi Maresuke's Third Army would be able to move northward and join other Japanese forces, enabling the Japanese to achieve numerical superiority. Although he needed to reverse the tide of the war, Kuropatkin was reluctant to move too far from Mukden due to the approach of winter, and the lack of accurate maps.

The Russian battle plan was to block the Japanese advance at the Shaho River south of Mukden by turning the Japanese right flank and counterattacking towards Liaoyang with Stackelberg's Eastern Detachment. Simultaneously, Bilderling Western Division was to move south and to cut off Kuroki's IJA 1st Army. The terrain was flat all the way to Liaoyang for the Russian right flank and center, and hilly for the left flank. Unlike previous engagements, the fields of tall kaoliang grains had been harvested, denying the Japanese concealment.

After two weeks of combat, the battle ended inconclusively strategically. Tactically, the Japanese had advanced 25 kilometers on the road to Mukden, but more importantly had blocked a major Russian counter-offense and effectively ended any hope of relieving the Siege of Port Arthur by land.

Russian admiral leading the Baltic Fleet towards Tsushima Straights, Russo-Japanese War

Baltic Fleet redeploys

1904 Oct 15
, Baltiysk

Meanwhile, the Russians were preparing to reinforce their Far East Fleet by sending the Baltic Fleet, under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky. After a false start caused by engine problems and other mishaps, the squadron finally departed on 15 October 1904, and sailed halfway around the world from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific via the Cape Route around the Cape of Good Hope in the course of a seven-month odyssey that was to attract worldwide attention. 

The trawlers fired upon

Dogger Bank incident

1904 Oct 21
, North Sea

The Dogger Bank incident occurred on the night of 21/22 October 1904, when the Baltic Fleet of the Imperial Russian Navy mistook a British trawler fleet from Kingston upon Hull in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea for Imperial Japanese Navy torpedo boats and fired on them. Russian warships also fired on each other in the chaos of the melée. Two British fishermen died, six more were injured, one fishing vessel was sunk, and five more boats were damaged.

In the aftermath, some British newspapers called the Russian fleet 'pirates', and Admiral Rozhestvensky was heavily criticised for not leaving the British fishermen lifeboats. The Royal Navy prepared for war, with 28 battleships of the Home Fleet being ordered to raise steam and prepare for action, while British cruiser squadrons shadowed the Russian fleet as it made its way through the Bay of Biscay and down the coast of Portugal. Under diplomatic pressure, the Russian government agreed to investigate the incident, and Rozhestvensky was ordered to dock in Vigo, Spain, where he left behind those officers considered responsible (as well as at least one officer who had been critical of him). From Vigo, the main Russian fleet then approached Tangiers, Morocco, and lost contact with the Kamchatka for several days. The Kamchatka eventually rejoined the fleet and claimed that she had engaged three Japanese warships and fired over 300 shells. The ships she had actually fired at were a Swedish merchantman, a German trawler, and a French schooner. As the fleet left Tangiers, one ship accidentally severed the city's underwater telegraph cable with her anchor, preventing communications with Europe for four days.

Concerns that the draught of the newer battleships, which had proven to be considerably greater than designed, would prevent their passage through the Suez Canal caused the fleet to separate after leaving Tangiers on 3 November 1904. The newer battleships and a few cruisers proceeded around the Cape of Good Hope under command of Admiral Rozhestvensky while the older battleships and lighter cruisers made their way through the Suez Canal under the command of Admiral von Felkerzam. They planned to rendezvous in Madagascar, and both sections of the fleet successfully completed this part of the journey. The fleet then proceeded to the Sea of Japan.

The Surrender of Port Arthur (Angelo Agostini, O Malho, 1905).

Port Arthur surrenders

1905 Jan 2
, Lüshunkou District

After the Battle of Liaoyang in late August, the northern Russian force that might 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 had been destroyed. In general, the Russian defenders were suffering disproportionate casualties each time the Japanese attacked. In particular, several large underground mines were exploded in late December, resulting in the costly capture of a few more pieces of the defensive line. Stessel, therefore, decided to surrender to the surprised Japanese generals on 2 January 1905. He made his decision without consulting either the other military staff present, or the Tsar and military command, all of whom disagreed with the decision. Stessel was convicted by a court-martial in 1908 and sentenced to death on account of an incompetent defense and for disobeying orders. He was later pardoned.

Battle of Sandepu

Battle of Sandepu

1905 Jan 25 - Jan 29
, Shenyang

After the Battle of Shaho, the Russian and Japanese forces faced each other south of Mukden until the frozen Manchurian winter began. The Russians were entrenched in the city of Mukden, while the Japanese occupied a 160-kilometer front with the Japanese 1st Army, 2nd Army, 4th Army and the Akiyama Independent Cavalry Regiment. The Japanese field commanders thought no major battle was possible and assumed that the Russians had the same view regarding the difficulty of winter combat. The Russian commander, General Aleksey Kuropatkin was receiving reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway but was concerned about the impending arrival of the battle-hardened Japanese Third Army under General Nogi Maresuke to the front after the fall of Port Arthur on 2 January 1905.

The Russian Second Army under General Oskar Gripenberg, between 25 and 29 January, 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, Gripenberg was ordered to halt by Kuropatkin and the battle was inconclusive.

As the battle ended in a tactical stalemate, neither side claimed victory. In Russia, the Marxists used the newspaper controversy created by Gripenberg, and by Kuropatkin’s incompetence in previous battles, to drum up more support in their campaign against the government.

Battle of Mukden

Battle of Mukden

1905 Feb 20 - Mar 10
, Shenyang

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. Approximately half a million men were involved in the fighting. Both sides were well entrenched and were backed by hundreds of artillery pieces. After days of harsh fighting, added pressure from the 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 Russians suffered a estimated 90,000 casualties in the battle.

The retreating Russian Manchurian Army formations disbanded as fighting units, but the Japanese failed to destroy them completely. The Japanese themselves had suffered heavy casualties and were in no condition to pursue. Although the Battle of Mukden was a major defeat for the Russians and was the most decisive land battle ever fought by the Japanese, the final victory still depended on the navy.

Departure of the Japanese Combined Fleet in the morning of 27 May 1905.

Battle of Tsushima

1905 May 27 - May 28
, Tsushima Strait

After a stopover of several weeks at the minor port of Nossi-Bé, Madagascar, that had been reluctantly allowed by neutral France in order not to jeopardize its relations with its Russian ally, the Russian Baltic fleet proceeded to Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina passing on its way through the Singapore Strait between 7 and 10 April 1905. The fleet finally reached the Sea of Japan in May 1905. The Baltic Fleet sailed 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) to relieve Port Arthur only to hear the demoralizing news that Port Arthur had fallen while it was still 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 Strait between Korea and Japan. However, this was also the most dangerous route as it passed between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese naval bases in Korea.

Admiral Tōgō was aware of 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 battleships and one second class battleship (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, taking the shorter, riskier route between Korea and Japan, and travelling at night to avoid discovery. Unfortunately for the Russians, while in compliance with the rules of war, the two trailing hospital ships had continued to burn their lights, which were spotted 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 reports from scouting forces, the Japanese were able to position their fleet to "cross the T" of the Russian fleet. The Japanese engaged the Russians in the Tsushima Straits on 27–28 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, while six others were interned in neutral ports. After the Battle of Tsushima, a combined Japanese Army and Navy operation occupied Sakhalin Island to force the Russians into suing for peace.

Battle of Sakhalin

Japanese invasion of Sakhalin

1905 Jul 7 - Jul 31
, Sakhalin island

The Japanese force commenced landing operations on 7 July 1905, with the main force landing between Aniva and Korsakov without opposition, and a second landing party nearer to Korsakov itself, where it destroyed a battery of field artillery after short combat. The Japanese moved on to occupy Korsakov on 8 July, which was set on fire by the retreating Russian garrison after having been defended for 17 hours by 2,000 men led by Colonel Josef Arciszewski. The Japanese moved north, taking the village of Vladimirovka on 10 July, the same day that a new Japanese detachment landed at Cape Notoro. Colonel Arciszewski dug in to resist the Japanese, but was outflanked and forced to flee into the mountainous interior of the island. He surrendered with his remaining men on 16 July. About 200 Russians were captured while the Japanese suffered 18 dead and 58 wounded. On 24 July, the Japanese landed in northern Sakhalin near Alexandrovsk-Sakhalinski. In northern Sakhalin, the Russians had about 5,000 troops under the direct command of General Lyapunov. Because of the numerical and material superiority of the Japanese, the Russians withdrew from the city and surrendered a few days later on 31 July 1905.

Negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth (1905).

Russo-Japanese War ends

1905 Sep 5
, Kittery

Military leaders and senior tsarist officials agreed before the war that Russia was a much stronger nation and had little to fear from the Empire of Japan. The fanatical zeal of the Japanese infantrymen astonished the Russians, who were dismayed by the apathy, backwardness, and defeatism of their own soldiers. The defeats of the Army and Navy shook Russian confidence. The population was against escalation of the war. The empire was certainly capable of sending more troops but this would make little difference in the outcome due to the poor state of the economy, the embarrassing defeats of the Russian Army and Navy by the Japanese, and the relative unimportance to Russia of the disputed land made the war extremely unpopular. Tsar Nicholas II elected to negotiate peace so he could concentrate on internal matters after the disaster of Bloody Sunday on 9 January 1905.

Both sides accepted the offer of United States to mediate. Meetings were held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Sergei Witte leading the Russian delegation and Baron Komura leading the Japanese delegation. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on 5 September 1905 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

After courting the Japanese, the US decided to support the Tsar's refusal to pay indemnities, a move that policymakers in Tokyo interpreted as signifying that the United States had more than a passing interest in Asian affairs. Russia recognized Korea as part of the Japanese sphere of influence and agreed to evacuate Manchuria. Japan would annex Korea in 1910 (Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910), with scant protest from other powers. From 1910 forward, the Japanese adopted a strategy of using the Korean Peninsula as a gateway to the Asian continent and making Korea's economy subordinate to Japanese economic interests. The United States was widely blamed in Japan for the Treaty of Portsmouth having allegedly "cheated" Japan out of its rightful claims at the peace conference.


1906 Jan 1
, Japan

The effects and impact of the Russo-Japanese War introduced a number of characteristics that came to define 20th-century politics and warfare. Many of the innovations brought by the Industrial Revolution, such as rapid-firing artillery and machine guns, as well as more accurate rifles, were first tested on a mass scale then. Military operations on both sea and land showed that modern warfare had undergone a considerable change since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. Most army commanders had previously envisioned using these weapon systems to dominate the battlefield on an operational and tactical level but, as events played out, the technological advances forever altered the conditions of war too.

For East Asia this was the first confrontation after thirty years involving two modern armed forces. The advanced weaponry led to massive casualty counts. Neither Japan nor Russia had prepared for the number of deaths that would occur in this new kind of warfare, or had the resources to compensate for such losses. This also left its impression on society at large, with the emergence of transnational and nongovernmental organizations, like the Red Cross, becoming prominent after the war. The consequent identification of common problems and challenges began the slow process that came to dominate much of the 20th century.

It has also been argued that the conflict had characteristics of what was later to be described as "total war". These included the mass mobilization of troops into battle and the need for so extensive a supply of equipment, armaments, and supplies that both domestic support and foreign aid were required. It is also argued that domestic response in Russia to the inefficiencies of the tsarist government set in motion the eventual dissolution of the Romanov dynasty.

To the Western powers, Japan's victory demonstrated the emergence of a new Asian regional power. With the Russian defeat, some scholars have argued that the war had set in motion a change in the global world order with the emergence of Japan as not only a regional power, but rather, the main Asian power. Rather more than the possibilities of diplomatic partnership were emerging, however. The United States and Australian reaction to the changed balance of power brought by the war was mixed with fears of a Yellow Peril eventually shifting from China to Japan. American figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Lothrop Stoddard saw the victory as a challenge to western supremacy. This was reflected in Austria, where Baron Christian von Ehrenfels interpreted the challenge in racial as well as cultural terms, arguing that "the absolute necessity of a radical sexual reform for the continued existence of the western races of men has ... been raised from the level of discussion to the level of a scientifically proven fact". To stop the Japanese "Yellow Peril" would require drastic changes to society and sexuality in the West.

Certainly the Japanese success increased self-confidence among anti-colonial nationalists in colonised Asian countries – Vietnamese, Indonesians, Indians and Filipinos – and to those in declining countries like the Ottoman Empire and Persia in immediate danger of being absorbed by the Western powers. It also encouraged the Chinese who, despite having been at war with the Japanese only a decade before, still considered Westerners the greater threat. As Sun Yat-sen commented, "We regarded that Russian defeat by Japan as the defeat of the West by the East. We regarded the Japanese victory as our own victory". Even in far-off Tibet the war was a subject of conversation when Sven Hedin visited the Panchen Lama in February 1907. While for Jawaharlal Nehru, then only an aspiring politician in British India, "Japan's victory lessened the feeling of inferiority from which most of us suffered. A great European power had been defeated, thus Asia could still defeat Europe as it had done in the past." And in the Ottoman Empire too, the Committee of Union and Progress embraced Japan as a role model.


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