Russo-Japanese War: When Asia defeated Europe

Battle ship guns

The Russo-Japanese War was a conflict that took place from 1904 to 1905. It was fought between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over control of Korea and Manchuria.


The war resulted in a Japanese victory, and it is seen as a landmark in modern military history.


The Russo-Japanese War was caused by a number of factors. 


First, Russia and Japan were competing for influence in Korea and Manchuria. By 1860, Russia had controlled parts of Manchuria, a vast tract of north-west China.


The important city of Port Arthur in northern China was taken from the Chinese by Russia in 1898. 


Since it provided a secure safe harbour for Russia's Pacific fleet, Port Arthur became strategically significant.


Second, Russia had been expanding its territory eastward, while Japan had been expanding southward.


This led to a conflict of interests between the two countries. Tsar Nicholas II had come to the throne of Russia in 1894, and he was keen to assert his country's power in the Far East.

Third, Russia had developed a plan to build a trans-Siberian railway. This would have given Russia a direct link to the Pacific Ocean and would have enabled it to transport troops and supplies quickly to the Far East.


However, Japan saw this as a threat to its own interests in the region. 


Fourth, Russia was trying to modernise its army, while Japan was trying to build up its own military power.


Russia needed a warm water port in the Pacific due to the problems it faced with its navy in the Baltic Sea.


This meant that it was looking to expand its territory southward, into areas such as Korea and Manchuria.

Battle of Port Arthur

The Russo-Japanese War began on the 8th of February 1904, with a surprise attack by the Japanese on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.


The Russians were unprepared for the attack, and they suffered a crushing defeat. 


By August 1904, the Japanese had surrounded and besieged Port Arthur. More than 100,000 Japanese soldiers dug kilometers of trenches and assaulted the city's fortifications with guns, artillery, mortars, mines, and tunnels.


The Japanese eventually captured Port Arthur after a five-month standoff. Around 6,000 Russian personnel perished in the attack, as well as around 4 times that number of wounded.


The Japanese captured around 20,000 Russian soldiers. Port Arthur, the region's only military fortress, was both strategically crucial and diplomatically damaging after it fell to the Japanese.

Battle of Mukden

The Battle of Mukden was fought from February to March of 1905. It was the largest land battle of the Russo-Japanese War, and it resulted in a crushing defeat for the Russians. 


Around 330,000 Russian soldiers were up against 270,000 Japanese soldiers. While the Russians had similar numbers, they were outgunned, and outmaneuvered.


They suffered around 88,000 casualties in the battle, while the Japanese only lost around 77,000. 


The Battle of Mukden effectively ended any chance of Russia winning the war on land.

Battle of Tsushima

In September 1904, the Tsar had ordered the dispatch of its Baltic Fleet to Asia. Its commanders were told to challenge the Japanese and relieve Port Arthur. In October, 28 Russian vessels set sail from Europe.


The Russian Baltic Fleet finally arrived in the Straits of Tsushima in May 1905. The fleet was spotted as it rounded the southern tip of Korea and entered the East China Sea.


The Russians were intercepted by the Japanese navy on 27 May 1905, in what is known as the Battle of Tsushima. 


All but three of the Russian ships were sunk or destroyed, and around 12,000 sailors perished. The defeat was so crushing that it effectively ended Russia's naval power in the Pacific.


The humiliations of Port Arthur and Tsushima, compelled Nicholas II's administration to seek truce terms from the Japanese.


This was a significant blow to their international reputation with other countries. 

Treaty of Portsmouth

On September 5th, 1905, after months of negotiations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, between US President Theodore Roosevelt and representatives from both Russia and Japan, a peace treaty was finally signed. 


The treaty recognised Japan's control over Korea and Russia ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan.


Russia also agreed to evacuate all of its troops from Manchuria and give up its lease on Port Arthur. 


The Treaty of Portsmouth was a victory for Japan, as it had achieved most of its war aims.


For Russia, the war was a humiliating defeat that exposed the shortcomings of its military.


The consequences of the Russo-Japanese War were far-reaching. Most importantly, it marked the first time an Asian power had defeated a European power in modern times.


The war also signaled the rise of Japan as a major world power. 


For Russia, the war was an unmitigated disaster. In addition to the loss of life and damage to its prestige, the country also lost valuable territory in Asia.


The war exposed the weaknesses of the Russian military and led to widespread discontent at home.


This would eventually contribute to the outbreak of revolution in Russia in 1905.


The Russo-Japanese War was a turning point in world history, and its lessons are still relevant today.


It is a reminder that no one nation can dominate another forever, and that even the most powerful nations must always be prepared for change.

Red church Moscow