Port Arthur, Defense of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Port Arthur, Defense of


the heroic defense of the fortress of Port Arthur from Jan. 27 (Feb. 9) to Dec. 20, 1904 (Jan. 2, 1905), in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.

In 1898 the Russian tsarist government leased part of the Liaotung Peninsula (Kwantung Peninsula), including Port Arthur (present-day Lüshun), for 25 years. Owing to lack of funds, the construction of fortifications, designed by Colonel K. I. Velichko, could not begin there until 1901. By January 1904, of the 25 batteries that were planned along the coastal axis, only nine permanent and 12 temporary batteries had been built; along the land axis, of the six forts, five fortifications, and five permanent batteries planned, only one fort, three fortifications, and three batteries had been completed. Only 116 of the 552 guns were combat ready.

The garrison of the Kwantung Peninsula was composed of the 4th and 7th East Siberian rifle divisions. The commander of the Kwantung Fortified Region was Lieutenant General A. M. Stessel’, and the commandant of the fortress, Lieutenant General K. N. Smirnov. The commander of the land defense was Lieutenant General R. I. Kondratenko, who was the organizer and prime mover of the defense of Port Arthur. At the beginning of the war, Vice Admiral O. V. Stark’s 1st Pacific Ocean Squadron was in Port Arthur. It was composed of seven armor-clads, nine cruisers (three of them obsolete), 24 torpedo boats, four gunboats, two minelayers, and two mine cruisers.

Before sunrise on Jan. 27 (Feb. 9), 1904, ten Japanese torpedo boats suddenly attacked the Russian squadron, which, through the negligence of the command, stood unprotected in the open outer roadstead. Two Russian armor-clads and one cruiser were damaged. Later in the morning the main forces of the Japanese fleet, commanded by Admiral H. Togo (six armor-clads, five armored cruisers, and four cruisers), approached Port Arthur in the hope of destroying the weakened Russian squadron. However, they were forced to retreat under fire from the squadron’s ships and coast batteries.

Vice Admiral S. O. Makarov, the new commander of the Pacific Ocean Fleet, arrived on February 24 (March 8) and took resolute steps toward strengthening the defense of the base and increasing the squadron’s aggressiveness in combat. But Makarov was killed on March 31 (April 13). The passivity of Rear Admiral V. K. Vitgeft, who took command of the squadron, permitted an unhindered landing by General Y. Oku’s Second Army near P’itzuwo on April 22 (May 5). Not encountering any resistance, the Japanese Army cut off the railroad to Port Arthur. On May 13 (26) greatly superior Japanese forces of about 35,000 men (against 3,800 Russians) captured Russian positions on the isthmus of Chinchou that were covering the distant approaches to Port Arthur. The Russian troops withdrew to positions along the axis of Lungwang Bay and the village of Suantsaikou. Expecting a strike of the main forces of the Russian Army from the north, the enemy left only one division facing Port Arthur and redeployed three divisions to the north. General G. K. Shtakel’berg’s I Siberian Corps (about 30,000 men), dispatched to support Port Arthur but incompetently led, was defeated at Wafangkou on June 1–2 (14–15).

To capture Port Arthur, the Japanese formed General M. Nogi’s Third Army, which initiated an offensive on June 13 (26), reaching the near approaches to the fortress on July 17 (30) and beginning a siege. By that time the garrison of the fortress had about 50,500 men (8,000 of them sailors), 646 guns (including 350 fortress guns), and 62 machine guns. The enemy had about 70,000 men, about 400 guns (including 198 siege guns), and 72 machine guns. On July 28 (August 10) the Russian ships made another attempt to fight their way to Vladivostok. (The first attempt had been made on June 10 [23].) But after an unsuccessful battle in the Yellow Sea, they returned to Port Arthur, where they lent strong fire support to the ground troops in the defense of the fortress and supplied them with artillery and men to reinforce the defense.

The enemy assaulted the Russian positions on August 6 (19). In fierce fighting that lasted until August 11 (24), the enemy managed to drive wedges in certain places in the main line of the fortress perimeter. However, it was accomplished with a great loss of men. (About 15,000 enemy soldiers and more than 6,000 Russians died.) On September 6–9 (19–22) the Japanese troops undertook a second assault. Suffering heavy losses (7,500 men as opposed to 1,500 Russians), the enemy captured three fortifications—the Kumirnenskii and Vodoprovodnyi redoubts and Dlinnaia Hill. Mount Vysokaia, which dominated the city, was the main object of the enemy attack and managed to hold out. On September 18 (October 1) the enemy bombarded Port Arthur with 11-inch howitzers. The concrete casemates of the fortress, which were not designed to withstand such heavy guns, crumbled under the fire. During the third assault on October 17–18 (30–31), the Japanese forces could take only a few secondary fortifications. After receiving reinforcements, the enemy resumed the assault on November 13 (26), directing the main strike against Mount Vysokaia. On November 22 (December 5), despite the heroism of the defenders, the enemy captured the mountain and opened artillery fire to destroy the remaining ships of the squadron, which was trapped in the inner roadstead.

On December 2 (15), General R. I. Kondratenko and his closest aides were killed. General A. V. Fok, who advocated surrendering the fortress, was appointed commander of the land defense. At a session of the military council held on December 16 (29), the majority urged that the defense be continued. Nevertheless, Stessel’ signed an act of surrender on Dec. 20, 1904 (Jan. 2, 1905). About 25,000 men were taken prisoner. The heroic defense of Port Arthur diverted about 200,000 men from the Manchurian strategic axis. The Japanese lost more than 110,000 men and 15 warships; 16 ships were seriously damaged.

During the fighting near Port Arthur, the use of engineer installations and obstacles in defense was further developed, the first mortars and hand grenades were manufactured and used, and searchlights were employed to repulse night attacks. V. I. Lenin considered the fall of Port Arthur to be politically significant in that it was evidence of the crisis of autocracy. “It is the autocratic regime and not the Russian people that has suffered ignoble defeat. The Russian people has gained from the defeat of the autocracy. The capitulation of Port Arthur is the prologue to the capitulation of tsarism” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 9, p. 158).


Lenin, V. I. “Padenie Port-Artura.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 9.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad o novoi ekonomicheskoi politike.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Sorokin, A. I. Oborona Port-Artura, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1954.
Shvarts, A. V., and Iu. D. Romanovskii. Oborona Port-Artura, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1908–10.
Russko-Iaponskaia voina 1904–1905, vol. 8, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1910.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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