The Russo Japanese War
(or Manchurian Campaign) was a conflict that arose from tensions between the Russian Empire
and the Japanese Empire
in regards to Manchuria and Korea. As the Russian Empire proceeded to capture more land as they progressively annexed states they encroached on Manchuria and Korea, which Japan considered a protective buffer zone.
Alexander III moved to the alliance with Japan and rivalry with Britain in Asia, but under Nicholas II this trend soon died off. His personal feelings (after the stupid attempt on his life during a visit in Japan) didn't help it either. The reason behind efforts to keep the presence in Korea despite previous arrangements on the spheres of influence was not even in conscious state politics, just a lobby of a few merchants directly interested in obtaining the concession being condoned by an incompetent monarch.
Following the First Sino Japanese War
Japan succeeded in removing most of China's influence from Korea. Nicholas II considered the war with Japan right then, even though it was doomed to be a logistical calamity
even worse than the Crimean War and his Chief of the General Staff plainly told him so. A direct confrontation didn't happen yet, but Russia reacted by having other powers pressure Japan to relinquish the Liaodong Peninsula for an increased financial indemnity. In December 1897 the Russian Navy moved towards Korea, taking Port Arthur on lease. The Boxer Rebellion in Manchuria offered another excuse for Russia to move in; as one of the eight elected international powers moved to quell the rebellion Russian didn't participate in a timely retreat from Manchuria, leaving a force behind.
The Japanese entered negotiations with Russia, allowing them to keep a presence in Manchuria as long as Japan remained in control of North Korea. They also succeeded in signing the Anglo-Japanese Alliance treaty in 1902, ensuring British support during a war with Russia. Japan would sever diplomatic relations on 6 February 1904 as tensions rose.
Japan declared war on Russia on 8 February 1904, but launched a preemptive attack on Port Arthur three hours before the declaration reached Russia (a tactic for which the country would later become (in)famous
). Tsar Nicholas II was stunned by news of the attack. He could not believe that Japan would commit an act of war without a formal declaration, and had been assured by his ministers that the Japanese would not move to declare war (the requirement to declare war before commencing hostilities was not made international law until after the war had ended in October 1907, effective from 26 January 1910). Russia declared war eight days later and Montenegro did so as well, though mostly in moral support due to logistical reasons and distance, and in return for Russian help against the Ottoman Empire.
The war began with the surprise attack at Port Arthur, which developed in the Battle of Port Arthur as it progressed. This battle would mostly end in stalemate as the Japanese could not easily target the Russian forces in the port and the Russians would not move from their tactically superlative position in the port. The engagement did allow for a Japanese landing at Incheon in Korea.
While the Japanese moved forward the Russians focused on stalling as reinforcements were slowly moved in. The Japanese launched an offensive with the Battle of Yalu River, but the Russians stood their ground, not moving to counter attack the repelled forces. Confrontation would continue at Port Arthur as the Japanese attempted to make entering and leaving the port impossible. They succeeded to an extent, two Russian ships escaping the port being struck by mines, the one sinking and the other returning to port for extensive repairs. In turn, 2 May 1905 the minelayer "Amur" made a night sally and the next morning two Japanese battleships were sunk by its mines—which was two more that the whole fleet managed to bring down at Tsushima. Then again, it was one of the most modern ships in its fleet.
Eventually the siege of Port Arthur came to a head as Russian ships were moved out to face the Japanese. The ships exchanged fire, eventually a direct hit on the Russian flagship resulted in the death of the fleet commander, and though no ships were sunk the Russians retreated back into Port Arthur. The Japanese eventually captured the outward land fortifications of the port, using them to launch an attack on the Russian from which they could not retaliate; five Russian ships were lost as a result.
With Port Arthur captured the Japanese 3rd Army progressed northward instigating the Battle of Sandepu and Battle of Mukden. Both victories for Japan, the Russians made a continued retreat. With news of the defeat at Port Arthur reaching the reinforcements sailing past Madagascar en route, the Japanese prepared to intercept the demoralized Russian force. 27 May 1905 the Second Pacific Squadron (formerly Baltic Fleet) attempted to sneak through the Tsushima Straits under cover of darkness but was detected by the Japanese... and mostly demolished — only three vessels made it to Vladivistok. The battle of Tsushima is the single most decisive naval victory of the 20th century, almost completely destroying the Russian navy. It was to be decades before Russia was taken seriously as a sea power again.
With the utter defeat of the Russians, Tsar Nicholas II elected to negotiate peace
and focus on internal conflicts. The American President Theodore Roosevelt volunteered to act as a mediator (winning a Nobel peace prize for his efforts). The Treaty of Portsmouth was soon signed to signify peace. Ironically, in its bid to cut their losses and avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy
the Russian government might've missed their chance to win. The war was extremely heavy on then fledgling Japanese economy, to the point that they hardly had any bargaining point during the peace talks, and top Russian negotiator, Count Sergey Vitte
, was able to trade so favorable peace terms that the Japanese envoy, Baron Komura, quipped: "I don't know who's really lost here!" (the economical hardships and unfavorable peace were the main reasons for the riots mentioned below). In short, some analysts speculate that war was economically unsustainable for Japan, and even in the wake of the horrific military disasters that were Tsushima, Mukden and Port Arthur, Russia could still win, had they persisted just a couple of months more
In the aftermath, 80,000 Japanese and 70,000 Russians were killed. Russia lost much political esteem and respect due to the incident, and was underestimated due to it during World War One
. Not long after the Russian Revolution would occur though by the time it was quelled Russia was able to achieve a boon that lead back into great prosperity. In Japan the result was met with mixed feelings, the victory was considered costly and much of the public were vocally displeased, and riots and protests persisted for a while after the war's conclusion. Other problems from the war would take much longer to become apparent; the "lessons learned" of the Russo-Japanese War would lead Japan and its navy to utter ruin three and half decades later, facing the United States.
Of interest, the Japanese navy managed to destroy their own flagship during the victory celebrations due to a sake-fueled accidental fire.
Tropes that describe this event:
- Badass Navy: The IJN. The IJA on the other hand was a pretty average army, but it fared pretty well against the Russians, if only due to the utter indecisiveness of Russian generals. Most of the battles were described in contemporary press as waves after waves of Japanese infantry storming the entrenched Russian defences until the exhausted Russians are overwhelmed, being prevented by the aforementioned generals from regrouping or counterattacking.
- Also, the Russian Pacific Fleet, that, under admirals Stark, Makarov and Vitgeft, gave the IJN a desperate run for its money: after being caught by surprise by Togo attacking Port Arthur with torpedo boats before the declaration of war, admiral Stark managed to kick him back to the sea when he showed up with the fleet, and would have defeated him then and there if not for the viceroy of Port Arthur not overruled his orders to leave the port before blaming him for failing to destroy the Japanese fleet; assigned to replace Stark, Stepan Makarov (the best Russian admiral) defeated the IJN in two skirmishes, and was returning at Port Arthur after a third victory when his ship hit a mine; as soon as he assumed command, Vitigeft (the second best with Rozhestvensky) managed to sink two Japanese battleships in the same day with a minefield, and when he sortied in the Battle of the Yellow Sea he nearly defeated Togo (even temporarily disabling his flagship) before his second in command managed to hit Vitigeft's ship in such a way that the Russians didn't realize he was dead for a while.
- Also, the Second Pacific Squadron. Formerly the Baltic Fleet and mostly composed by either ships so old that without the war they would have been scrapped or so new they had been just launched, and crewed by the worst of the Russian Navy (as all the competent crews had been already sent to the front), under the lead of Rozhestvensky (the second best admiral of the Russian Navy before the war, and with a stubborn streak and practicality sufficient to compensate with Makarov superior talent) they did an impossible voyage from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, something that even the Royal Navy (the greatest navy of the era) considered impossible, and by then Rozhestvensky had whipped his crew into shape to the point they were a match for the pre-war Pacific Fleet. Too bad that the Japanese fleet outgunned and outnumbered them by a ridicolous margin and, thanks to the experience against Stark, Makarov and Vitigeft, had largely improved their skills...
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Russians find themselves on the receiving end of this trope. Courtesy of the Japanese.
- Especially the Battle of Tsushima.
- Curb Stomp Cushion: most of the Japanese ships at Tsushima had been hit at least once, reporting varying levels of damage, and most Russian ships fought to the bitter end, firing their guns even as they were sinking.
- Inverted in the land war. The Russian army was able to retreat intact following a battle; the Japanese army was unable to pursue because it ran out of steam after an offensive and had to pause to rebuild its forces. Even the Russian army managed to retreat after the Mukden Operation to set up a new defense line further north.
- David Versus Goliath: Little Japan * against the second largest nation in the entire world. Japan won, startling everyone. Except Theodore Roosevelt, who admired them as "the plucky little guy".
- Russia had an enormous teritory, but economically and politically it was not much better developed than Japan, and the size of its territory itself made the fighting all the more difficult, as it happened in the most remote and undeveloped corner of the country.
- The Empire: Both the Japanese and Russian empires. The latter was much larger than the former, though.
- Epic Fail: The Russian Navy, on wrong side of the world, found a fleet of British fishing boats, and thought they were Imperial Japanese Navy torpedo boats (in the North Sea—apparently they thought the Japanese had developed teleportation). So they opened fire on it with all their guns and missed nearly every single shot. One battleship literally fired 500 shots without hitting a thing. Three fishermen and two Russians died (from friendly fire), including a priest. Then, after losing a battle against a fishing flotilla (and nearly provoking a war with Great Britain), the Russian fleet steamed around the rest of the world and confronted the enemy at Tsushima... and then got utterly annihilated by the actual IJN.
- The attack on the fishing ships had a good reason: Japanese intelligence had done everything to make the Russians believe they had managed to sneak torpedo boats (at the time The Dreaded due the effectiveness of the torpedo and lack of trust in the protection offered by destroyers) in the Northern Sea. While admiral Rozhestvensky didn't fell for it, some of the crews and captains were nervous, and when a supply ship mistook a passing Swedish ship for a torpedo boat other ships in the fleet started firing on anything emerging from the night and the mist, including the fishing ships and other Russian ships.
- The Royal Navy shadowed the Russian fleet with its own cruiser squadrons after the Dogger Bank incident to make sure they wouldn't pull those kinds of shenanigans again. Rozhestvensky was reportedly green with envy each time he saw the smooth, precise maneuvers of the British ships, neatly keeping station behind his own straggling heap. Judging by the impressive numbers of Russian seamen lost to desertion or tropical disease, the Brits needn't have worried.
- For Want of a Nail: Had the shell hitting the main flagship not been a dud, both Heihachiro Togo and Isoroku Yamamoto may have been killed.
- Four Star Badass: Admiral Togo, definitely. Let the numbers speak for themselves.
- Took a Level in Badass: During the war the Russian admirals of the Pacific Fleet had given him a great run for his money, with one being in the process of utterly kicking his ass before being killed by a lucky shot. At Tsushima Togo faced an admiral just as talented as the one that had nearly defeated him and more experienced and stubborn, and anticipated all his moves.
- Also, admiral Zinovi Rozhestvensky, his opponent at Tsushima, for a simple reason: he took a fleet of ships that were either too old to sail or so new they had just been launched, crewed and commanded by the worst of the Russian navy (the best having already been defeated at Port Arthur and crewing the ships trapped in Vladivostok), whipped the crews into shape and took the fleet in an unprecedented voyage around the world without losing a single ship. Granted, he still lost at Tsushima, but he gave better than anyone but the Tzar expected from them, managed to break through the Japanese fleet with some of his ships, and it took multiple head wounds to finally knock him out, and was still unconscious when he was captured. Even after Tsushima, Rozhestvensky's fame was so great that, while returning to Moscow after the war, every single bandit and rebel who stopped his train bowed to him and apologized for making him wasting time before resupplying and letting him go.
- Russian admirals Oskar Stark, Stepan Makarov and Wilgelm Vitgeft also qualified. Togo first established his credentials as Four Star Badass by kicking the ass of the first and killing the other two in battle, but all of them gave as good as they got: Stark, in spite of sabotage from the viceroy of Port Arthur, managed to thwart Togo's attempt at sinking the Russian Pacific Fleet in harbour (before being sacked for political reasons), Makarov gave Togo a desperate run for his money before his ship was hit by a mine, and Vitgeft nearly defeated Togo before being killed.
- Eduard Schensnov earned a promotion to rear admiral rank at the Yellow Sea by [[Crowning Moment of Awesome charging the whole IJN with a single battleship to cover the retreat of the Pacific Fleet and not only surviving but managing to return home. The charge of the battleship Retvizan saved the Pacific Fleet: with Vitigeft dead and most of the fleet following his crippled flagship because they hadn't realized he was dead yet, the IJN would have easily annihilated the Russians had Schensnov not realized that the admiral was at least incapacitated and decided to earn Vitigeft's second enough time to take command.
- Foreshadowing: The tactics of this war foreshadowed World War I (on land) and World War 2 (at sea).
- The fact that the main guns of the Japanese battleships saw much more use than the forest of secondary guns helped lead to the Dreadnought revolution, which focused on maximizing the firepower of the main guns instead of using them in conjunction with secondaries.
- Frakking Difficult Logistics: one reason the Russian Army performed as poorly as it did was because all of its supplies had to come overland via the newly-constructed Trans-Siberian Railroad, which at the time was single-track. It took very little to completely overstrain the railroad's capacity. Russian generals' incompetence at managing logistics didn't help, nor did localized peasant uprisings along the railway route.
- From Bad to Worse: For Russia. The Japanese economy did not come out of the war looking pretty, but the Russian economy and national unity were in shambles, and 60,000 people would starve to death due to the money wasted on this war.
- General Failure: Aleksei Kuropatkin.
- Genghis Gambit: The Russians attempted to use the war as a way to draw attention away from their domestic problems. It backfired, mostly because they lost, and as a direct result of the troops being away from European Russia peasant uprisings erupted across the the country that would take two years to stamp out.
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Japan.
- Poor Communication Kills: Can start wars too, as the Russian emperor not responding to the Japanese emperor's request to speak peacefully about Korea prompted Japan to attack.
- Being attacked and almost killed while on the visit to Japan as a Heir Apparent didn't much endear Nicolas II to the country. The fact that he was much lampooned in the Russian underground press for the incident didn't help either.
- Self Destructive Charge
- The Russians' poor performance in the war helped spark the 1905 Revolution, which was a much greater threat to the Russian Empire than the Japanese ever were. It did not help that the cream of the Russian Navy was destroyed at Tsushima. (The Russian Army might have taken heavy losses, but they were all replaceable. Expensive battleships, less so.)
- Less well-known is that by the time the war ended, Japan was literally bankrupt; the country simply didn't have the money to sustain the fighting longer than they did. Given that they ended up victorious and in control of lots of raw materials, they could rebuild successfully after war much more easily than the Russians could, but they were at their culminating point by the time the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed.
- Underestimating Badassery: The Russians made this mistake with regards to the Japanese. They weren't the last. The Japanese themselves also underestimated the Russians later, when they tried to invade the Soviet Union in 1939.
- Vestigial Empire: Russia.
- We Have Reserves: Both sides used this tactic on land, with World War I style trenches, artillery barrages, and machine gun nests. Ultimately the Japanese won most of these battles, but would lose more troops. They made up for it by capturing large amounts of Russians after winning battles, taking them out of the fight.
- The assault on Port Arthur would solidify this mindset among the Japanese. In reality, four separate frontal attacks were cut down before the Japanese switched their target to the nearby hill, placed heavy artillery there, and used it to shut down the port via long-range bombardment; but in the Japanese retelling of the story, this was conveniently forgotten, and emphasis placed on the offensive spirit of the bayonet charges. Japanese insistence on massed attacks and the spirit of the offensive would persist until World War II, long after the trenches of the Western Front had had discredited the idea for the Europeans.
- Worthy Opponent: Togo regarded Rozhestvensky as this for bringing an untested and badly crewed fleet around the world in an unprecedented voyage and whipped the crews into shape. Also, Rozhestvensky already deemed Togo as this before their confrontation for personally defeating and killing every other capable admiral Russia had, and after Tsushima personally congratulated him for beating him with a better performance than in the previous battles.
Depictions in fiction:
- The first part of Diamond Chariot book in Erast Fandorin series is set in Russia during Russo Japanese War.
- Several Valentin Pikul's novels are set in this period, most notably Cruisers, starring Russian naval officers, and Wealth, where an idealistic journalist is appointed the governor of Kamchatka, which is barely settled, full of Corrupt Hicks and dangerously close to Japan. A Japanese landing ensues and is repelled by breaking out some old rifles from an disused depot, but the hero is booted from Kamchatka nevertheless by said hicks.
- Battle Of The Japan Sea, notable for being the final film Eiji Tsuburaya of Godzilla fame worked on. Focuses on the final few battles of the war.
- Port Arthur, Toshio Masuda and Teruyoshi Nakano's 3 hour anti-war film dealing with the battle for Hill 203, focusing mainly on Maresuke Nogi(played by Tatsuya Nakadai) featuring Toshiro Mifune as Emperor Meiji.
- The "interquel" Nihonkai Daisakusen: Umi Yukaba is basically a remake of Tsuburaya's 1969 effort done by Teruyoshi Nakano and Toshio Masuda.
- Mentioned off-handedly in The Battleship Potemkin when one of the sailors exclaims that, "Russian prisoners in Japan are fed better than we are!"
- Italian writer Emilio Salgari (better known for the Sandokan novels) wrote the novel L'Eroina di Port Arthur ("The Heroin of Port Arthur") about the initial battles of the war (until the death of admiral Makarov). Differently from other examples on this page, Salgari was a contemporary and published his novel during the war, and, due his opposition to European colonialism, took the Japanese side.