The Russian-Japanese War

In the decades following the civil war in Japan (1863-1868), Japan was systematically modernizing its naval and land forces and pursuing an extremely aggressive foreign policy to expand its sphere of influence. In the war with China in 1894 and 1895, Japan was able to incorporate Taiwan. It also controlled the Korean peninsula, which was officially independent but secretly a vassal state of Japan.

The Russian Tsarist Empire, especially the military leaders, looked with concern at the expansions of Japan to the Russian borders. The first political tensions led to the leasing of Russia from the Manchurian peninsula Liaodong and the establishment of a naval base there. When Russia occupied all of Manchuria in northern China in 1900 and wanted to build a railway line from its new naval base Port Arhur to Siberia, tensions escalated and led to war.


Asien im 18. Jahrhundert

Asia in the 18th century




The beginning of the war:

After the Boxer Rebellion in Manchuria in 1900 it was politically agreed that Russia should withdraw from the occupied territories. However, by 1903, the Tsar's empire did not comply with the agreement, as it would continue to rely on the port of Port Arthur, located in western Manchuria, to have at least one ice-free naval base in the Pacific. The former Vladivostok base froze during the winter months, making it unusable for the navy during this period.

Japan was now forced to resolve the political tensions with Russia militarily to prevent the Russian claims to expand in the area further. The Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro was thus charged with attacking the 1st Pacific Wing of the Russians in Port Arthur. The attack took place in February 1904 when 10 Japanese destroyers torpedoed during the night. However, not a single Russian ship could be hit and when the port defense with their headlights began to search the bay, the attack had to be stopped. Another attack took place in the morning hours, but the coastal battles did not allow the Japanese warships to get close enough to open fire on the Russian ships, leaving the Japanese with only a blockade on the port.


Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō

Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō




The attack from the country:

After the Japanese Navy had failed to sink the Russian warships, an attack was started from the land side. In August 1904, the Japanese attack on the Russian positions, which made a first impression on the bloody battles of the First World War. Here, the Japanese artillery fired at the Russian positions, then the infantrymen began to storm the fortified with barbed heights which cut down the attackers with machine guns by the thousands. The fights were particularly intense around the height of 203, which was not only the strongest fortified but also controlled the port. Only on December 5, the Japanese succeeded in conquering the positions in a man against man fight. On January 2, 1905, the remaining Russian troops capitulated.


Japanische Soldaten

Japanese soldiers




The naval battles:

Shortly after the attack on land ran the 1st Pacific Squadron of the Russians on 10 August 1904 to unite with the rest of the fleet in Vladivostok. The Japanese admiral Togo was completely unprepared for the departure and had to send 4 battleships and 2 cruisers behind. Since the Russian ships were much slower than the Japanese, they could catch up and put them to battle. Although Admiral Togo's flagship Mikasa, one of the most advanced battleships of his time, was badly damaged during this battle, Russian ships suffered more serious damage. Thus, in a hit of the bridge of the Russian flagship Zessarewitsch the captain and all senior officers was killed. By the end of the day, the Russians had lost 1 battleship and 2 cruisers and had to return to Port Arthur. After the defeat, the 1st Pacific Squadron played no role in the conflict anymore.


Japanisches Schlachtschiff Mikasa

Japanese battleship Mikasa




The conquest of Manchuria:

In addition to the siege and the attack on Port Arthur, Japanese troops also marched through Korea to attack Russian troops in southern Manchuria. In May 1904, the Japanese soldiers marched into the area, pushing the Russian troops further and further back until it came to a meeting in Liaoyang in August between about 125,000 Japanese and 158,000 Russian soldier bn.

The Russians tried to break through the Japanese positions with 2 assaults and push them back again. Both attacks could be fought off. After the Japanese had lost about 23,000 men and the Russians about 18,000, the Russian General Kuropatkin had his troops withdrawn to the Manchurian capital Mukden.


Die russische Armee auf dem Rückzug nach der Schlacht von Mukden

The Russian army in retreat after the Battle of Mukden


In February and March 1905, 270,000 Japanese soldiers began attacking the city. One of the Japanese armies attacked it on the left flank while the main body attacked the center and the right flank. Despite being fortified by machine guns, the Japanese were able to break through the defenses and expel the Russians to the north under heavy losses. Thus, Manchuria was completely in Japanese hands.




The decisive victory:

Two months after Manchuria fell into Japanese hands, there was a clash between the Russian and Japanese fleets in the Strait of Tsushima between Korea and Japan. From the 27th to the 28th of May 1905 the biggest naval battle since Trafalgar and the last one in which tank guns were used raged here. After the Russian Navy lost 17 of its 28 ships and 5 were captured, they had to retreat.

Through the mediation of the United States in September 1905, the Peace of Portsmouth was closed. In this peace agreement, the withdrawal of the Russian and Japanese forces from Manchuria was agreed. Russia also had to hand over the Liaodong peninsula and the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan.

This ended Russia's ambitions in the Pacific, and Japan was able to secure its supremacy in the territories. In addition, it showed for the first time the inferiority of a European great power to a non-European country.






You can find the right literature here:


Human Bullets: A Soldier's Story of the Russo-Japanese War

Human Bullets: A Soldier's Story of the Russo-Japanese War Paperback – April 1, 1999

The impact of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 was incalculable. It was the first victory by an Asian power over a European one since the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century. Japanese victory was ascribed to the "spirit" of the Japanese people, which helped their soldiers to overcome superior numbers and technology. A fascinating glimpse into prevailing nationalistic and militaristic attitudes in early-twentieth-century Japan, Human Bullets is also an engaging story of combat and an excellent source of insights about a relatively obscure but immensely influential conflict.

Tadyoshi Sakurai was a junior officer in the Japanese campaign against Port Arthur, Russia’s ice-free port in China. His account is an interesting introduction to the concept of yamato-damashii, or "traditional Japanese spirit." This spirit was something greater than mere high morale. Japanese soldiers were the emperor’s "human bullets." Like bullets, they were unconcerned with victory, comfort, or self-preservation, existing only to strike the enemy.

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The Russo-Japanese War 1904–05 (Men-at-Arms)

The Russo-Japanese War 1904–05 (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – July 25, 2004

The Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria was the first 20th century conflict fought between the regular armies of major powers, employing the most modern means – machine guns, trench warfare, minefields and telephone communications; and the battle of Mukden in March 1905 was the largest clash of armies in world history up to that date. Events were followed by many foreign observers; but the events of 1914 in Western Europe suggest that not all of them drew the correct conclusions. For the first time in the West the armies of this distant but important war are described and illustrated in detail, with rare photos and the superbly atmospheric paintings of Russia's leading military illustrator.

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Tsushima 1905: Death of a Russian Fleet (Campaign)

Tsushima 1905: Death of a Russian Fleet (Campaign) Paperback – November 20, 2018

Japan was closed to the world until 1854 and its technology then was literally medieval. Great Britain, France, and Russia divided the globe in the nineteenth century, but Japan was catching up. Its army and navy were retrained by Western powers and equipped with the latest weapons and ships. Japan wanted to further emulate its European mentors and establish a protectorate over Korea, yet Japanese efforts were blocked by Imperial Russia who had their own designs on the peninsula.

The Russo-Japanese War started with a Japanese surprise naval attack against an anchored enemy fleet still believing itself at peace. It ended with the Battle of Tsushima, the most decisive surface naval battle of the 20th century. This gripping study describes this pivotal battle, and shows how the Japanese victory over Russia led to the development of the dreadnought battleship, and gave rise to an almost mythical belief in Japanese naval invincibility.

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Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship: Yellow Sea 1904–05 (Duel)

Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship: Yellow Sea 1904–05 (Duel) Paperback – February 17, 2009

The first major clash between a European and Asian state in the modern era signalled the beginning of Japan's rise as a major power on the world stage. What began as differing expansionist interests in Manchuria and Korea developed into a full-blown war in 1904, with an unexpected outcome. Watched by the rest of the world's superpowers, this incredibly violent war was disastrous for the Russians who, despite their superior numbers, were defeated by the Japanese underdogs in a spectacular fashion. Japan won major victories against the Russians including the critical naval battle of Tsushima in May 1905 which saw almost the entire Russian fleet sunk, captured or interned. This was the first and last encounter of pre-dreadnought battleships and it was a huge success for Japanese tactics, skill and planning. This book discusses the design and development of the pre-dreadnoughts that would ultimately lead to a new wave of battleships. The key technical elements of firepower, protection, maneuverability and communications for each side are covered in detail and accompanied by first-hand accounts and specially commissioned artwork to explain and illustrate this historically significant duel.

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