Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05


a war that developed out of the growing struggle among the imperialist powers for the partition of semifeudal China and Korea. For both sides, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 was expansionist, unjust, and imperialist.

Capitalist Japan, which aspired to seize Korea and Northeast China (Manchuria), played a particularly active role in the growing rivalry among the powers in the Far East. According to the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), Japan, having defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, received the island of Taiwan (Formosa), the P’enghu Islands (the Pescadores), and the Liaotung Peninsula. Under pressure from Russia, which had the support of France and Germany, Japan was forced to give up the Liaotung Peninsula. This marked the beginning of the exacerbation of Russo-Japanese relations.

In 1896 the Chinese government granted Russia a concession to build a railroad across Manchuria, and in 1898, Russia leased the Kwantung Peninsula with Port Arthur (Lüshun) from China, obtaining the right to build a naval base there. During the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China, tsarist troops occupied Manchuria (1900). Japan began actively to prepare for war against Russia, concluding an alliance with Great Britain (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902). The tsarist government, whose expansionist policy in the Far East was directed by the adventuristic Bezobrazov clique, was counting on an easy victory in a war against Japan and hoping that such a victory would make it possible to overcome the growing revolutionary crisis.

Economically and militarily, Japan was significantly weaker than Russia, but the remoteness of the Far Eastern theater of war from the center of Russia reduced Russia’s military capabilities. After mobilization the Japanese Army had 13 infantry divisions and 13 reserve brigades (more than 375,000 men and 1,140 field guns). During the war the Japanese government mobilized approximately 1.2 million men. The Japanese Navy consisted of seven battleships (six new and one old); eight armored cruisers, including two built abroad, which arrived after the outbreak of the war; 17 light cruisers, including three old ones; 19 destroyers; 28 torpedo boats (in the Combined Fleet only); and 11 gunboats.

Russia was unprepared for war in the Far East. Although it had a regular army of 1.1 million men and reserves of 3.5 million, Russia had only about 98,000 men, 148 guns, and eight machine guns in the Far East in January 1904. The border guard consisted of 24,000 men and 26 guns. These forces were scattered over the vast territory from Chita to Vladivostok and from Blagoveshchensk to Port Arthur. The capacity of the Siberian trunk line was very low (initially only three pairs of troop trains per day). During the war approximately 1.2 million men were moved into Manchuria. Most of them were sent in 1905.

In the Far East the Russian Navy had seven battleships, four armored cruisers, ten light cruisers (including three old ones), two mine-laying cruisers, 35 torpedo boats (one commissioned after the beginning of the war), and seven gunboats. Most of the ships were based at Port Arthur, and four cruisers (including three armored cruisers) and ten destroyers were at Vladivostok. The defensive installations at Port Arthur, particularly those on land, had not been completed. Considering Japan a weak enemy, the tsarist government pursued an adventurist policy unsupported by forces and means and allowed itself to be caught unprepared.

The Russian command assumed that the Japanese Army would not be able to launch a land offensive quickly. Consequently, the Far Eastern troops were assigned the mission of holding the enemy until the arrival of large forces from the center of Russia in the seventh month of the war. At this point they were to go over to the offensive, pushing the Japanese troops back to the sea and landing in Japan. The navy was to fight for supremacy at sea and prevent the landing of Japanese troops.

The Japanese strategic plan envisaged winning supremacy at sea by a surprise attack and by the destruction of the Port Arthur squadron. According to this plan, Japanese troops were to land in Korea and southern Manchuria in order to capture Port Arthur and defeat the main forces of the Russian Army in the Liaoyang region. Subsequently, the Japanese planned to occupy Manchuria and the Ussuri and Maritime territories.

Russo-Japanese negotiations on the delimitation of spheres of influence in Manchuria opened in 1901 in St. Petersburg. In December 1903, Japan issued an ultimatum demanding changes in the Russian government’s position, and despite concessions by Russia, broke diplomatic relations on Jan. 24 (Feb. 6), 1904. During the night of January 27 (February 9), ten Japanese destroyers, taking advantage of the carelessness of the Russian command, made a surprise attack on the Russian squadron, which was stationed without proper security measures in the outer harbor of Port Arthur, and knocked out two battleships and one cruiser. On January 27 (February 9), six Japanese cruisers and eight destroyers attacked the Russian cruiser Variag and the gunboat Koreets in the Korean port of Chemulpo. Damaged in an unequal, heroic battle, the Variag was sunk by its crew. The Koreets was blown up.

On January 28 (February 10), Japan declared war on Russia. The war was not in the interests of the working people of either country. The Bolsheviks opposed the war and favored the defeat of the tsarist government and the overthrow of the autocracy.

The Russian command was headed by the commander in chief of the armed forces in the Far East, Admiral E. I. Alekseev (from Oct. 13 [26], 1904, General A. N. Kuropatkin, and from Mar. 3 [16], 1905, General N. P. Linevich), whose subordinates included the commander of the Manchurian Army (until October 1904, General Kuropatkin) and the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral S. O. Makarov. (From Apr. 22 [May 5], 1904, Rear Admiral V. K. Vitgeft served as commander of the fleet chief of the General Staff and from June the commander in chief of ground forces. The Japanese Navy was headed by Admiral Togo.

The weakened Russian squadron in Port Arthur initially limited itself to defensive actions. Vice Admiral Makarov, who arrived in Port Arthur on Feb. 24 (Mar. 8), 1904, began to prepare the squadron for active operations, but on March 31 (April 13) he was lost on the battleship Petropavlovsk, which was blown up by mines. The new naval leadership (Alekseev and Vitgeft) abandoned the struggle for superiority at sea, and the squadron was used only to defend Port Arthur.

From Jan. 24 (Feb. 6) through Mar. 3 (16), 1904, General T. Kuroki’s Japanese First Army (approximately 34,000 bayonets and sabers and 128 guns) landed in Korea. By the middle of April the Japanese First Army had reached the Yalu River. At this time Russian forces (more than 123,000 bayonets and sabers and 322 field guns) were distributed as follows: more than 24,000 bayonets and sabers and 56 guns in Vladivostok and the Amur region, more than 28,000 men and 56 guns at Port Arthur and on the Kwantung Peninsula, more than 23,000 men and 88 guns in southern Manchuria, more than 28,000 men and 60 guns in the region of Liaoyang and Mukden, and General M. I. Zasulich’s Eastern Detachment (more than 19,000 bayonets and sabers, 62 guns, and eight machine guns) on the Yalu River. The Japanese First Army defeated the Eastern Detachment in the battle of the Yalu River on April 18 (May 1), and, advancing to Fenghuangch’eng, supported from the flank the landing of General Y. Oku’s Second Army (about 35,000 bayonets and sabers and 216 guns) on the Liaotung Peninsula at Pitzuwo on April 22 (May 5). The Japanese Second Army cut the railroad to Port Arthur and on May 13 (26) threw back the small Russian detachment that was defending the distant approaches to Port Arthur on the isthmus in the Chinchou region. Having left one division on the Kwantung Peninsula, the Japanese command launched an offensive to the north along the railroad to Liaoyang with the forces of the Second Army (two divisions) and two additional divisions, from which General M. Nozu’s Fourth Army was formed in July. The Japanese First Army (three divisions) advanced across the mountain passes from the southeast to Liaoyang. General M. Nogi’s Third Army (in July, three divisions and two brigades, 45,000–50,000 bayonets and sabers) was formed for the capture of Port Arthur.

Under pressure from the tsar and Admiral Aleksei Kuro-patkin sent General Shtakel’berg’s Siberian I Corps to relieve Port Arthur. Owing to poor leadership, the corps was defeated at Wafangkou on June 1–2 (14–15). In June-July the Japanese armies launched a converging offensive on Liaoyang. At the beginning of August, after a series of unsuccessful battles, Russian troops occupied defensive positions along the far approaches to Liaoyang. In the battle of Liaoyang, which took place between August 11 (24) and August 21 (Sept. 3), Kuropat-kin, unable to take advantage of the favorable situation that developed in the course of the battles and offered a real chance for victory, ordered a retreat to the north. By the middle of September, the Russian Manchurian Army had been reinforced to 195,000 bayonets, 19,000 sabers, 758 guns, and 12 machine guns. The Japanese armies had 150,000 bayonets and sabers, 648 guns, and 18 machine guns. This made it possible for Russian troops to go over to a counteroffensive that resulted in the battle on the Sha River. The battle lasted from September 22 (October 5) to October 4(17) and ended in a stalemate. Weakened by heavy losses (more than 40,000 for the Russians and more than 20,000 for the Japanese), both sides went over to the defensive. A static front up to 60 km long was formed. This was a new phenomenon in the art of war.

The Japanese command made every effort to capture Port Arthur as soon as possible and destroy the Russian squadron, but the repeated assaults were repulsed by the Russian garrison, which put up a heroic defense. The Port Arthur squadron, which was threatened with destruction, tried to break out to Vladivostok on June 10 (23) and July 28 (August 10), but after a battle on the Yellow Sea, it was forced to return to Port Arthur in a weakened condition. (Some of the ships left for neutral ports.) On Dec. 20, 1904 (Jan. 2, 1905), General A. M. Stessel’, the chief of the Kwantung fortified area, perfidiously surrendered the fortress without exhausting the possibilities for its defense. The capture of Port Arthur made it possible for the Japanese command to shift the Third Army to reinforce the main forces. The Japanese fleet gained time to prepare for meeting the Russian Second Pacific Squadron, which had left Liepāja on Oct. 2 (15), 1904.

On the Sha River, by January 1905 the three Russian Manchurian armies (created in October 1904) occupied an almost continuous front 100 km long and up to 150 km long with the flank detachments. In January the Russian command, attempting to defeat the enemy before the arrival of the Japanese Third Army, undertook an offensive with the troops of the Russian Second Army in the region of Sangtiehp’u. This ended in failure. On February 6(19), Japanese troops went over to the offensive, with the aim of turning the flanks of the Russian armies. The battle of Mukden (1905), which ended on February 25 (March 10), resulted in a major defeat for the Russian troops. Having suffered heavy losses, they retreated to the Ssup’ingkai positions 160 km north of Mukden, where they remained until peace was concluded. Military operations on land virtually ceased. By the end of the war, there were more than 800,000 Russian troops in Manchuria (a combat strength of about 470,000 men, 1,672 guns, and 374 machine guns). The Japanese had a combat strength of 380,000 men. In July 1905, Japanese troops occupied the island of Sakhalin.

From the beginning of the war until August 1904 the Vladivostok cruiser detachment conducted active operations on the enemy sea lines, destroying 15 steamers, including four military transports, and fighting heroically against superior Japanese forces on August 1 (14) in the battle of the Korea Strait. The last stage of the Russo-Japanese War was the battle of Tsushima (1905). Under the command of Vice Admiral Z. P. Rozhestven-skii the Russian Second and Third Pacific squadrons completed an 18,000-mile (32,500-km) voyage from the Baltic Sea around Africa and on May 14 (27) approached the Tsushima Strait, where they engaged the main forces of the Japanese Fleet. In the two-day sea battle, the Russian squadron was completely defeated, signifying “not just a military defeat, but the complete military collapse of the autocracy” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 10, p. 252).

Despite its victory, Japan was exhausted by the war. An an-timilitary mood was growing among the Japanese. With Russia engulfed in revolution, the tsarist government endeavored to conclude peace as soon as possible. On May 18 (31), 1905, the military government asked President T. Roosevelt to act as mediator of the peace talks, which began on July 27 (August 9) in the American town of Portsmouth, N. H. Under the Treaty of Portsmouth, which was signed on August 23 (September 5), Russia recognized that Korea belonged to the Japanese sphere of influence and turned over to Japan its leasing rights in Kwantung Province with Port Arthur, the southern branch of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, as well as the southern part of Sakhalin.

The fundamental reasons for Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War were the reactionary, decadent character of tsar-ism; the incompetence of the superior military command; the unpopularity of the war among the people; the poor combat quality of the reinforcements, which consisted largely of reservists, including older men with insufficient military training; the poor preparation of a significant portion of the officers; insufficient material and technical support; and a poor knowledge of the theater of war. The Japanese won the war, profiting from broad support from Great Britain and the USA. Between April 1904 and May 1905, the British and the Americans granted Japan four loans totaling $410 million. These loans covered 40 percent of Japan’s military expenses.

The most important result of the Russo-Japanese War was the establishment of Japanese imperialism in Korea and southern Manchuria. On Nov. 17, 1905, Japan imposed on Korea a protectorate agreement, and in 1910, Korea was incorporated into the Japanese Empire. The strengthening of Japanese imperialism in the Far East changed the American attitude toward Japan, which became a more dangerous competitor than Russia.

The war had a great impact on the development of the art of war, especially operational art. For the first time, rapid-fire weapons, including rifles and machine guns, were used on a mass scale. On the defensive, trenches replaced the complex fortification works of the past. The necessity for closer interaction between the combat arms and extensive use of communications equipment became obvious. The firing of artillery from concealed positions became common practice. At sea, destroyers were used for the first time. The military reforms carried out in the Russian Army between 1905 and 1912 were based on the experience of the war.

For the people of Russia and Japan the Russo-Japanese War resulted in the deterioration of material conditions and rising taxes and prices. The Japanese state debt quadrupled. Japanese losses were 135,000 killed in action or as a result of wounds and disease, and about 554,000 wounded and sick. Russia spent 2,347,000,000 rubles on the war. Approximately 500 million rubles were lost in the form of ships and vessels sunk and property surrendered to Japan. Russian losses were 400,000 killed, wounded, sick, and captured. Tsarism’s Far Eastern adventure, which led to major defeats and called for great sacrifices, evoked the indignation of the Russian peoples and accelerated the outbreak of the Revolution of 1905–07, the first bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia.


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Lenin, V. I. Pervoe maia: Proekt listka. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. Padenie Port-Artura. Ibid., vol. 9.
Lenin, V. I. Pervoe maia. Ibid, vol. 10.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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