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Russo-Japanese War

Russia and Japan sought to divide their interests in Korea at the outset of the 20th Century, suggesting at one point that the thirty-eighth parallel be the dividing line between their spheres of influence. The rivalry devolved into the Russo–Japanese War (1904–5), however, when Japan launched a successful surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Dalian (Port Arthur) in Northeast China. Japan then electrified all of Asia by becoming the first nonwhite people to subdue one of the “great powers”; thereafter many Asian progressives, Sun Yatsen of China and many young Koreans included, went to study in Japan.

While continuing to take great interest in affairs in the Balkans, with the new century Russia turned her attention more and more to expanding her dominions in Asia. All of northern Asia, or Siberia, had been taken as far as the Pacific, but the Russians hoped to go southward and reach ports on the warmer seas. Much progress was made, but always in western Asia the power of Great Britain in the end blocked the way.

In the eastern half of the continent Russia's southern neighbor was China, and here the prospect of success was Japan greater, for at the end of the century China seemed just about to fall to pieces. Still farther to the east, it is true, the Japanese, in their island empire, had just taken up western civilization and methods with amazing capacity, and in 1894-5 gained a complete triumph in the ChineseJapanese War; but Japan was not yet regarded as a match for any great European power, and at once Japan was by Russia, Germany, and France compelled to give up most of the fruits of her victory.

The Trans-Siberian railway, which had been begun in 1891, and which was to run from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific, was being pushed steadily forward, and Russian expansionists dreamed of splendid possessions soon to be got from the dying Chinese Empire and the acquisition at last of an ice-free ocean port. This was a time when apparently China was about to be divided up among predatory European powers. In 1897 the Germans seized Kiao-Chau. Next year France got concessions in southern China; and at the same time Russia obtained much greater ones in the north.

In 1898 she obtained from the Chinese government the right to build the Siberian railway across Manchuria; she was soon in possession of that province, and she got a lease of the great stronghold, Port Arthur, at the end of the Liao-tung peninsula, from which Japan had shortly before been compelled to go, and which she now joined with her railway by a branch line, and converted into one of the strongest positions in the world.

After the Boxer outbreak in 1900, the Russians took complete possession of Manchuria, and, in the years that followed, threatened to advance farther and absorb Korea, which lay on the flank of their communication between Manchuria and Liao-tung. Not only had Japan long wished to obtain Korea, but such was its geographical position, pointed directly at the heart of Japan, that in the hands of Russia it might be as dangerous as Belgium, in the possession of Napoleon or the German Empire, would have been to Great Britain.

In 1894-95 Japan precipitated the war with China over the suzerainty of Korea, though China's conduct had been exceedingly provoking. Japan had adopted Western civilization on its material side, and with a modern army and navy she soon won a brilliant victory. As a result a treaty was signed at Shimonoseki, April 17, 1895, declaring the absolute independence of Korea, ceding to Japan Formosa, the Pescadores, the Liaotung peninsula and Port Arthur, and pledging China to pay an indemnity of 200,000,000 taels. But Port Arthur is the Gibraltar of Asia-thefirst great deep-sea harbor on the Pacific Coast south of the ice line, land-locked and protected by rocky hills rising almost from the water's edge.

Japan's mastery of Port Arthur blocked Russia's aim for an ice-free port on the Pacific Coast. Russia induced Germany and France to unite with her in demanding that Japan exact a much larger indemnity from China and return Port Arthur and the Liaotung peninsula, on the ground that Japan's sovereignty on the Manchurian coast would render the independence of Korea illusory, would menace the security of the Chinese capital, and constitute an obstacle to the peace of the Far East. Japan bowed to superior force, but with great inward bitterness over being robbed of the just fruits of her victory.

In 1897, in punishment for the death of two German missionaries who had been killed in a Chinese riot, Germany demanded 200,000 taels for the murdered men, the rebuilding of the church destroyed by the rioters, reimbursement of all German expenses incurred, dismissal of the governor of the province, the severest penalties on the assassins and local officials, the cession of Kiaochow as a permanent naval base for Germany, exclusive coal-mining rights in Shantung, and railway concessions in the province. Captain Brinkley writes, "Never had the most rudimentary principles of international morality been so grossly betrayed in the Far East." 2 On March 3, 1898, four months after the Kiaochow incident, Russia asked China for a lease of Port Arthur and Talien (Dalny), in the Liaotung peninsula, and gave China five days to reply; and on the 25th of March China yielded. A few days later Great Britain demanded and obtained from China a lease of Weihaiwei, on the north coast of Shantung; and also two hundred square miles of the hinterland of the Kowloon promontory north of Hongkong. France secured a part of the mainland opposite the island of Hainan.

The only result, therefore, of Japan's humiliation was the increased aggression of other foreign Powers, and the lessened chance of Japan ever securing the fruits of a future victory over China. The iron entered Japan's soul, and immediately she began to double her army and treble her navy. In 1904-05 came Japan's war with Russia.

In February 1904 the Japanese suddenly struck and then declared war. Japan was greatly inferior in resources, but she had a splendid modern army of brave, hardy, and devoted soldiers, and an excellent fleet. Russia, far stronger, with greater army and fleet, was badly organized and poorly prepared, and fought moreover far from her base. Japan was close to the area of conflict.

The beginning of the struggle found the Russian fleet in the east divided, part at Port Arthur, part at Vladivostok. At once, before declaration of war had been made, the warships in Port Arthur were attacked and greatly damaged. When at last, some months later this fleet came forth to give battle, it sustained a terrible defeat. The squadron at Vladivostok was destroyed; and the Japanese got undisputed control of the sea.

Meanwhile they had sent a great army over into Korea, from which an inferior force of Russians was quickly driven. Then one Japanese army advanced into Manchuria, while another went down the Liao-tung peninsula to lay siege to Port Arthur. Everywhere the Russians were defeated. In September at Liao-yang was fought the first great battle in which the fearful new devices of war were used by large armies. The Russians were entrenched in a wonderfully fortified position, but after terrible slaughter the Japanese drove them out. Meanwhile the Japanese attempted to carry the impregnable fortress of Port Arthur by storm. Hideous slaughter resulted, but in January 1905, after a long siege, the fortress was taken. At the end of February the main Japanese army, reinforced by the army which had captured Port Arthur and now amounting to about three hundred thousand men, attacked the Russians who had about the same number. In the next two weeks, in a great struggle known as the Battle of Mukden, the Russians were driven back in complete defeat, losing a third of their number.

In all the principal engagements thus far the Russians had been beaten, but they might still hope for victory in the end, for whereas the Japanese had brought into play nearly all their force the Russians, who were not yet vitally wounded, had used only a part of theirs. If they could get control of the sea, the Japanese armies would at once be cut off from their base and quickly forced to yield; and if this failed, then in a contest of resources Japan might first be worn out. The Baltic fleet, what remained of Russia's power on the sea, was already on its way around the world, superior to the enemy in numbers, but inferior in equipment and personnel. May 27, 1905, it encountered the Japanese fleet under Admiral Togo in the Battle of Tsushima, near Japan, by far the greatest sea fight since Trafalgar, and one of the most decisive in history. There the Japanese ships, with superior speed and range of fire, got the position which they desired and performed the maneuver of "capping the line"; for as the Russian ships advanced in column formation, they at their own distance steamed across the path of the approaching enemy and destroyed his ships in succession. The Russian fleet was annihilated, and Japanese control of the sea finally assured.

The war was not yet won, however. Japan was almost completely exhausted. If the Russians persisted, time was probably on their side. But domestic considerations now caused them to lose heart and abandon the struggle. President Roosevelt of the United States attempted to mediate, and plenipotentiaries met at Portsmouth, where a treaty was signed September 5th. By the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth, Russia abandoned to Japan Port Arthur and her rights in the Liao-tung peninsula, gave over her attempts upon Manchuria and Korea, and ceded to Japan the southern part of Sakhalin, an island to the north of the Japanese group, and, indeed, forming an extension of the archipelago of Japan. In the Far East Japan became now the dominant power, and presently seemed to threaten China.

Russia had yielded principally because such internal unrest and confusion had arisen that the whole structure of her government seemed near to the point of collapse. The system which the government had upheld by force, by arbitrary arrests, by secret trial, by banishment to Siberia, through the power of the secret police and the army, could be maintained only so long as Russia was at peace. Now the government was deeply involved in a d;stant war, which was never popular, which most of the people ill understood, in which patriotic fervor was never aroused. Had there been a great success, the military glory abroad might have stilled discontent at home, but when news came of repeated and shameful defeats in Manchuria and on the seas about China, popular fury burst out, and the radicals among the workingmen of the towns, the radical peasants in the country, the liberals of the upper and middle classes, and all the oppressed peoples - the Jews, the Poles, the Finns, and others - turned against the authorities, and it was no longer possible to resist them.

The Japanese were disappointed over the Treaty of Portsmouth. In the treaty Japan secured the exact results which she had announced as the object of the war, namely, the driving of Russia from Manchuria, where her presence destroyed the balance of power in the Far East. By the Treaty of Portsmouth Japan also secured Port Arthur and the southern half of Saghalien, but not a dollar to repay her for her tremendous expenditures. Japan had lost one hundred and thirty thousand of her noblest sons, she had a far larger number crippled or diseased for life; and in addition to such current expenses as she had raised by heroic sacrifices she found herself at the close of the war with a permanent addition to her debt of $500,000,000. Such sacrifices, so large an added indebtedness, and so brilliant a victory seemed to the Japanese to demand far more than they received; and to them the war seemed to end in empty glory. The dissatisfaction in Japan over the Treaty of Portsmouth was such that she withdrew her troops slowly and reluctantly from Manchuria, and never fully. Indeed, she continued openly and fully to occupy Korea, despite the fact that Japan had pledged Korea and the world that she would respect and preserve Korea's sovereignty as a condition of peaceably passing through her borders.

The most critical lesson of the Russo-Japanese War was the absolute necessity of employing indirect fire artillery- the era of artilery direct fire on the field of battle in view of the enemy was unquestionably over. Two points stand out in artillery officer's writing about the War; the first was the seemingly widespread agreement among them about the applicability and relevance of the lessons of the war for the artillery, and the second was the absence of repeated references to the American Civil War or the Franco-Prussian War - both of which figured prominently in writings by infantry and cavalry officers. As far as interpreting any lessons was concerned, it was apparent that artillerymen everywhere found more to agree with than to haggle over.

Observers' initial astonishment at seeing the Japanese gunners digging in their guns later turned to approval when it was realized that this was the only way to endure on the modern battlefield. Perhaps most amazing of all were the bombardments that dug-in artillery units could sustain and then afterwards resume firing. This actually became the procedure in many of the Japanese batteries; whenever the Russian artillery would begin a preparation on them, the Japanese gunners would cease firing and get in their trenches. Once the shelling stopped, they would immediately prepare for action and reply with their own bombardment.

From all this an important and unforeseen lesson was learned; field artillery properly placed and entrenched was extremely difficult to neutralize, even after the most punishing bombardment. Lieutenant Colonel Hume, a British observer, noted this lesson: "except under the most favorable conditions.. .or with.. .great superiority in number or power of guns, it is practically impossible to silence an opponent's artillery if it be well-entrenched."

The most far-reaching impact of this lesson was that the artillery's ability to destroy the enemy's supporting artillery was now in question; additionally, it meant that the infantry could no longer expect to advance with the certainty that the enemy's guns had been silenced. The ante for the attacker was being further raised.

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Page last modified: 23-05-2019 18:57:34 ZULU