Russo-Japanese War
China History
Japan History

Research Report
Web Resources


The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) began with a surprise attack by the Japanese navy against the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.  Japan then laid siege to this warm water port, and the closing of the siege became crtitical to the outcome of the war.  Another major battle took place a few miles off the shores of Tsushima Island, where the Russian Pacific fleet was virtually destroyed.  Shortly thereafter, the Treaty of Portsmouth concluded the war by awarding Japan recognition in Korea, Port Arthur, and the southern half of Sakhalin.

Historical Background

    After the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895, China was no longer seen as a world player, but rather as a great source of economic exploitation.  Japan had proven to be superior to China both on the battlefield and on the sea.  Japan gained instantaneous geopolitical prestige, Korea, Taiwan, and increased influence near Port Arthur.  China’s poor performance in the war, along with a clear demonstration of economic inferiority, led to the famous “scramble for concessions” by the Western powers.  Germany confiscated Shandong territory, Russia took Port Arthur, France occupied Guangzhou Bay, Britain obtained Weihaiwei, and Japan acquired Fujian.  Thus, China’s coastline had been economically divided among the most powerful nations in the world.
    Two major world players in this scramble for concessions were Russia and China.  Both countries seemed to yearn for the same territories such as Manchuria and Port Arthur.  Japan was furious when Port Arthur was leased to the Russians because she felt as if it belonged to her.  In 1896 Russian gained permission to build a railway through Manchuria directly to Vladivostok, which enraged the Japanese government.  Soon after this development Russia also began to make alliances with anti-Japanese forces in Korea, thus, further harming Russo-Japanese relations.  Therefore, it is essential to acknowledge this massive Russian railway expansion (1896-1904) when attempting to understand the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Research Report

    In June of 1903 the Russian minister of war, General Kuropatkin, made an official visit to Japan in an attempt to ease diplomatic tensions that had been accumulating since the end of the Sino-Japanese War.  The main issues at hand involved Manchuria and Korea.  When General Kuropatkin reported back to his superiors he made it very clear that war would not ensue as long as Russian ceased its movements into Korea.  However, this condition immediately fell through after it was realized that the Russian Far Eastern Lumber Company had already made arrangements to obtain Korean lumber.
 Meanwhile, in Japan, the Amur River Society (founded in 1901) along with Japanese newspapers managed to create an intense anti-Russian sentiment within the public.  The goal of the Amur River Society was to eventually drive Russia out of Manchuria and Korea so that Japan could effectively initiate her own imperialist vision.  All of these tensions pointed to one outcome—war.  Thus, on February 5th, under the recommendation of the chief of staff (Oyama), the emperor ordered that all diplomatic relations with Russia be severed.
    By severing diplomatic relations, Japan took its first step in planning for a war against Russia.  The Chinese navy reasoned that a surprise attack would be most effective against a super-power of Russia’s stature.  Admiral Togo conjured a dual attack that would commence both on land and at sea.  A cruiser squadron was to accompany troop transports to Chemulpo, where the soldiers would detach and destroy a Russian naval detachment.  Armed with ten destroyers (all equipped with torpedoes), Admiral Togo set sail for Port Arthur, where Russia had concentrated a good portion of its navy.
    The attack began around midnight, and apparently two Japanese destroyers collided with one another, immediately hindering the mission.  Three other Japanese ships lost contact with each other, which meant that the unity of the strike was virtually eliminated.  The Japanese navy took evasive action and continued to bombard the Russians with torpedoes.  Due to the confusion, the Russian fleet became aware of the attack rather quickly, and was able to mount an efficient defense.
    When morning came, Togo’s forces approached Port Arthur, expecting to come upon a badly damaged Russian fleet.  However, later reports confirmed that only three torpedoes had struck their targets.  Japanese morale was raised slightly when it was discovered that of these three torpedoes two had hit Russia’s most modern ships—the Retvizan and the Tsesarevich.  In retrospect, many critics of Admiral Togo believe that he should have mounted his attack with more than ten destroyers.  Instead, he sent eight destroyers to survey Dalny, another nearby Russian port.  Perhaps, if he would have instructed these ships to return to Port Arthur, in the event that Dalny was empty, the success of the surprise attack could have been much greater.
    So the question still remains, “why were the Russians taken by such surprise?”  Some claim that some of the senior officers were still ashore attending a party at the house of the Russian commander, Admiral Stark.  Apparently Stark’s wife felt that the men needed something to distract them from the intensity of the naval situation.  This claim was refuted by the journal of a Russian diplomat who wrote, “All our squadron has gone out to anchorage.  More than twenty units, not counting the destroyers.  After sundown nobody is allowed ashore” (Westwood, 40).

Siege of Port Arthur

    After the surprise attack on Port Arthur, the Japanese navy laid siege to this coveted warm water port.  To the Japanese, this port had been ripped away from their grasp after the Sino-Japanese War, and it was time to reclaim this territory for the emperor.  Between Dalny and Port Arthur, the Russians had constructed two lines of naval defense.  At the end of July Commander Nogi (Japan) was able to break this line of defense, and as a result the Russian General Fock ordered his ships to retreat back to the inner line, which was only six mile from the coast of Port Arthur.  Many historians mark this day, July 30th as the beginning of the closing of the siege of Port Arthur.
    On land Port Arthur was most heavily guarded at its eastern sector with barbed wire, land mines, and heavy guns.  Overall, 642 guns, 62 machine guns, and 40,000 men defended this port.  Eventually 17,000 men reinforced the original 40,000, and when the Russian navy was forced back into the harbor many naval guns were planted on shore.  The fort was able to effectively ward off the Japanese infantry, but the Japanese navy had superior artillery both in size and in quantity.  Intense bombardment from the navy could essentially eliminate the Russian army within the trenches, which would pave the way for the Japanese army.  The 500 lb shell that the Japanese navy was using to pound Russian ground structures may have been the deciding factor in the battle.  These massive shells were powerful enough to penetrate any concrete buildings that were in their paths.
    Although Japan proved to be victorious in the Battle of Port Arthur, the victory did not come without a heavy price.   After 240 days of constant fighting Japan had 60,000 casualties as opposed to Russia’s 30,000.  Commander Nogi, of Japan, lost both of his sons in this battle, which hindered his leadership abilities greatly.  With respect to the Russian casualties, 70% of their officers and 64% of their soldiers had been either killed or wounded.  After the fall of Port Arthur, Russian morale diminished throughout the entire military.  The Battle of Port Arthur was crucial because it meant that the Russian Pacific fleet was virtually nonexistent.

Battle of Tsushima

    The final major naval battle of the Russo-Japanese war was fought a few miles of the coast of Tsushima Island, thus it was named the Battle of Tsushima.  After the defeat at Port Arthur, Russia knew that it had to revitalize its navy.  Therefore, Admiral Rozhestvensky was sent with 12 armored ships around the Cape of Good Hope to once again attempt to assert naval superiority.
    When the opposing forces finally met (near Tsushima), Rozhestvensky ordered his ships into a strange formation, that of a T.  Admiral Togo seemed to counter this maneuver rather effectively by lining up his fleet at the head of the T-formation.  In essence, this tactic allowed Togo’s entire fleet (12 ships) to shell the four Russian ships that made up the head of the T-formation.  Due to the awkward positioning of Rozhestvensky’s squadron, only a couple of ships could return fire for fear of damaging their own ships.  Some claim that Japanese success is due to Russian incompetence, others cite Togo’s brilliant tactics, but in actuality both seem to have contributed to the Japanese victory.  The Battle of Tsushima was the last significant naval battle, and it marked the end of Russian hope.

Historical Significance

 This marked the first time that an Eastern power had ever defeated a Western power in war.  This fact alone was staggering, and it sparked a fervor of nationalism both in China and Japan.  The people of the East now felt as if the West was no longer invincible.  After the war Japan had three indispensable conditions for peace: recognition of Japanese occupation in Korea, evacuation of Russian troops in Manchuria, and the cession of Port Arthur.  Japan also wanted a transfer of territory with regards to Sakhalin, and a war indemnity (a full reimbursement for the war).  In the end, Japan had three of its conditions fully met, and actually received the southern half of Sakhalin.  No war indemnity was to be paid by the Russians (as was stipulated by the Treaty of Portsmouth).  In essence this shocking defeat changed Western perceptions of the East.  Japan was no longer seen as weak, but rather as a major geopolitical player.  In Russia, the inability of the Tsar to crush the Japanese was seen as a complete failure by the governing body.  Many historians believe that this military defeat was a precursor to the revolution of 1917.  Perhaps Lenin said it best when he described the loss as a, “prologue to the capitulation of Tsardom” (Westwood, 106).


Asakawa, K., PhD.  The Russo-Japanese Conflict: Its Causes and Issues.  Houghton-Mifflin Company: Boston, 1904.

Nish, Ian.  The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War.  Longman: London, 1985.

Okamoto, Shumpei.  The Japanese Oligarchy and the Russo-Japanese War.  Columbia  University Press: London, 1970.

Westwood, J.  Russia Against Japan.  State University of New York Press:  Albany, 1986

White, John.  Diplomacy of the Russo-Japanese War.  Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1964.

Web Resources (Alexander Print Publishing House). (copyright Keith Allen, 1999) (Don Stauffer)