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's borders expanded, they began to annex land that encroached on Manchuria and Korea, which Japan considered a protective buffer zone.
Alexander III had moved toward an alliance with Japan and a 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 continued presence in Korea was actually something of an accident. Imperial Russia was notorious for the way the various Ministries failed to consult or work with each other, the overall effect being that the policies of the ministries tended to counteract each other. This was okay, if inefficient, in purely internal affairs but in foreign affairs it was about to prove disastrous because Japan wasn't really sure about Russia's 'real' position on Japanese interests in Korea (not that 'Russia' herself knew either).
Interestingly, Nicholas II was advised that a war with Japan (to protect Korea's independence) would be a good idea following the First Sino-Japanese War, but the newly-founded General Staff told him that even holding out was unlikely before a Trans-Siberian railroad was completed. However, he did get the diplomatic service to get the other Great Powers on-side to pressure Japan into giving up the port of Dalian (late 'Port Arthur') in exchange for an increased financial indemnity from China. Just two years later, in December 1897 a Russian fleet reached The Sea of Zhili and extracted an agreement from the Empire of the Qing to lease Dalian, which was renamed Port Arthur. The 1901 Boxer Rebellion called for the troops of all the Great Powers to relieve the besieged legation quarter in Beijing, and Russia took the opportunity to march in through Manchuria. Once there they weren't in a hurry to leave, though, and they secured an agreement to build a railway linking Dalian/Port Arthur to Vladivostok and the main Russian rail network. The Ministry of Finance got to work right away, the projected completion date being 1906.
The Japanese became increasingly alarmed at the prospect that Russia might just ignore their various, vague agreements about respecting each other's interests in Korea and just take it for themselves when the railway was complete. Though they managed to get further assurances from the diplomatic corps that, yes, Nicholas II was cool with all that, his opinion hasn't changed, we've told you like 20 times already, you can stop asking now, the (acting independently) Ministry of Finance's actions in Korea and the Navy's fortification of Port Arthur caused them to doubt Nicholas II's actually-peaceful intentions. Desperate for more opportunities for her naval officers to train with the Royal Navy and get discount-price warships from British yards, Japan negotiated an Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902 - in which Britain agreed to fight on Japan's side if anyone intervened in a war between Japan and one other country. On the 6th of February 1904 Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia as they finally decided that, with the Trans-Siberian railway just two years from completion and them not being able to trust Russia's word, it was now or never.
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). This attack 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 behind its decent-ish coastal defenses. That said, with the fleet bottled up by Japanese mines the Japanese were free to make a landing at Chemulpo (Incheon) in Korea.
Tsar Nicholas II was stunned by news of the offensive. He thought his statements of intent regarding Korea had been quite clear, and that commercial interests in a place like Korea wasn't worth people fighting and dying for. Moreover, he was shocked that Japan would commit an act of war without a formal declaration (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 their contribution was mostly in moral support due to logistical reasons and distance, and in return for Russian help against the Ottoman Empire.
While the Japanese moved forward the Russians focused on stalling as reinforcements were slowly moved in - something made difficult by the way the line was still incomplete around Lake Baikal, and the fact that the line was a thin-gauge single-track one (meaning that the railway cars on it were thinner, and thus had less capacity, and could not go very fast lest they derail on turns. Moreover, a single engine breaking down could mean serious delays along the line). 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 returning to the port after a mission being struck by mines, the one sinking, taking Admiral Makarov, the top Russian commander and their best admiral, with it, and the other put out of service for extensive repairs. In turn, on 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 than 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 Russians (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 Centurynote For the reason that this was the only major battle between steel battleships, and that the lessons learned caused nations to focus their battleship design more on ship speed and gun range than a mixture of gun sizes, almost completely destroying the Russian navy. It was to be decades before Russia was taken seriously as a sea power again (though in practice, by the time the Anglo-German arms race ended in 1912-13 the Russian Navy was stronger than it had ever been).
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 effectively decided not to win the war. The war was extremely heavy on the fledgling Japanese economy, to the point that they had hardly any bargaining power during the peace talks, and the top Russian negotiator, Count Sergey Vitte, was able to obtain such favorable peace terms that the Japanese envoy, Baron Komura, quipped: "I don't know who's really lost here!" (the spiralling costs, barely-favourable peace, and unrealistic expectations were the reasons for the riots mentioned below). In short, mosts analysts speculate that war was economically unsustainable for Japannote More than 90% of all the money in all the banks in the country had been spent on the war effort, and despite the doubling of taxation the government's regular income was barely enough to cover the interest on its existing loans - Japan's debts to foreign banks were at least five times larger than those to its domestic ones and growing rapidly. Worse still, new foreign loans would be (drastically) harder to find, and the interest/repayment rates on them higher, the moment Russia declared her intent to win the war at whatever cost. Russia's fiscal situation wasn't pretty either, but her economy was much less reliant on trade and exports (meaning that Japan would be much worse off if it got to the point where one or both sides needed to print money) and had an economy, population, and reserve of trained manpower more than three times larger than that of Japan's to boot. 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. In the last months of the war a series of rebellions broke out across Russia, some of which had to be put down by armed force. The minor economic depression which was the chief cause of the civil disorder (the Army's perceived bungling of the war effort was just the last straw) was over within just a few years, and Russia experienced a period of great prosperity in the following decade that only petered out after the first couple of years of the war. In Japan the result was met with mixed feelings. There was considerable public outrage as the public had been led to expect a great victory over Russia, when in fact what they got was little better than a stalemate - though news of the outbreak of war had been met with dismay and despair in the general populace, as the war went on and the tactical victories mounted they came to expect (and were encouraged to believe) that their continued sacrifices would result in a truly fantastic peace treaty of the kind we now know Japan could never have gotten. Riots, protests, and sporadic assassinations persisted for some months after the war's conclusion and the Japanese economy took a decade or so to overcome the 'hit' caused by the war and the massive debts the country had run up fighting it. Other problems from the war would take much longer to become apparent; the "lessons learned" of the Russo-Japanese War would lead the Japanese Army, and Japan herself, to utter ruin three decades later when facing an eight-year warwith a resurgent China and a Hopeless Warwith 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:
Arms Dealer: Both sides purchased weapons from the German arms manufacturer Krupp. The Japanese bought thirty-two 120mm Krupp howitzers (using a French-style screw breech and no recoil buffers) which they used to good effect at the Battle of the Yalu. The Russians also bought Krupp howitzers of the same caliber (albeit with a modern recoil system) and deployed them on the Manchurian battlefield in 1905.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Rozhestvensky. A Rear Admiral and the chief of staff of the Russian Navy, and with a killer hook he would use on undisciplined sailors.
Badass Army: The Frontier Guards for the Russians. Army veterans made up the force, who enjoyed better pay and living conditions than the regular army; consequently they were the most competent troops available for the Russians. They were responsible for guarding the Manchurian railway and came under the command of the Finance Ministry rather than the military (but had full complements of infantry, cavalry, and artillery). The guards were responsible for guarding the railway as the Russian army retreated, giving them a reputation for tenacity. The Japanese, frustrated with their skill gave orders to "make no prisoners of green uniforms; kill them without mercy!"
The Russian Pacific Fleet that, under Admirals Stark, Makarov and Vitigeft, gave the IJN a desperate run for its money: after being caught by surprise by Tōgō 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 overruling 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 Tōgō (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.
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's superior talent) they did an impossible voyage from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean (having to go all the way around Africa after Great Britain and France prohibited them from traveling through the Suez Canal), 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 that they were a match for the pre-war Pacific Fleet. Too bad that the Japanese fleet outgunned and outnumbered them by a ridiculous margin and, thanks to the experience against Stark, Makarov and Vitigeft, had largely improved their skills. It also did not help that the long voyage took its toll on the Russian ships, many of which were due for a period of repair and refit in port that they would ultimately never get.
BFG: The Japanese used 280mm howitzers◊ during the Siege of Port Arthur; they were derived from coastal pieces in service in Italy and manufactured at Osaka Arsenal. The Russian defenders nicknamed the shells the howitzer fired "train shells" from the sound they made.
Additionally, the Japanese and Russian battleships both mounted 12-inch (305mm) guns in their main batteries (capable of launching 750-850 pound shells at 2,600 feet per second) The naval battles of this war featured both side scoring hits with these guns at unheard-of ranges, ranging up to 8 miles, meaning that combatants could suffer substantial damage long before the smaller secondary batteries could get within range. Newer battleship designs would exchange the smaller guns for more big guns, leading to the Dreadnoughts of World War I.
Colonel Badass: Colonel Nikolai Tret'yakov. He was the main Russian commander at Nanshan and Port Arthur's western defenses, and was one of the few Russian commanders who came out with a better reputation.
Combat Commentator: The Russo-Japanese War was one of the last conflicts where both belligerents invited foreign military attaches to observe and write about the battles. Military powers from Great Britain to Italy each produced their own detailed staff histories of the war, in addition to the numerous reports written by the observers themselves. The First World War brought the end to this practice, when armies ended the late 19th century practice of inviting foreign military observers, and started enforcing security and censorship.
Curb-Stomp Battle: The Russians find themselves on the receiving end of this trope to various degrees, 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.
Tsushima was a rather close thing: had Rozhestvensky been given enough ammunition to train his gunners during the voyage, he would have sunk the Japanese flagship Mikasa in the first five minutes of the battle (instead of missing her by just few meters with every shell), inflicting a materially and morally decisive blow to the Japanese fleet.
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 note okay, at the time it was an empire that also owned Taiwan and other territories. Still tiny. 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 territory, 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 Determinator: The Second Pacific Squadron. No matter the breaking of parts, the living conditions, the scarce supplies and the bad health on the ships, they had orders to reach Port Arthur first and Vladivostok later and only Tōgō's battlefleet stopped some of them from succeeding (yes, some of the ships did arrive in Vladivostok). The most determinator of all was Rear Admiral Dmitry Gustavovich von Fölkersamnote grandfather of the futureWorld War IISS commando officer Adrian von Fölkersam, Rozhestvensky's second-in-command and most trusted subordinate: he was terminally ill with cancer, yet he commanded the 2nd Battleship Division until cancer killed him the day before the battle, and, due to Rozhestvensky keeping his death secret to keep morale up, continued until Japanese fire destroyed his corpse.
Deus ex Machina: Japan would have almost certainly have run out of money to maintain its war effort if not for the large unexpected loans arranged by American Jewish banker Jacob Schiff, which, eventually, covered nearly half the cost of war incurred by Japan. Schiff might inadvertently have saved lives of many Jews during World War II as the grateful Japanese government took uncharacteristically charitable view of European Jews escaping Nazi-dominated Europe and allowed tens of thousands either transit through Japanese territory or a safe refuge within Japanese Empire (the Shanghai Ghetto).
Do a Barrel Roll: Inverted with the "Tōgō Turn". When a line of warships needed to reverse directions, they could either "Turn in Sequence", with the entire line snaking around behind the leader, or "Turn Together", with all of the ships executing their turn at the same time, effectively reversing the entire line. The former maintained the order of battle (ships at the front remained at the front), but exposed the entire fleet to fire as it required every ship to pass through the same spot for their turn, giving enemy gunners a chance to concentrate their fire on a single unmoving spot while the fleet obligingly sailed through it. The latter avoided this, but would result in the ships at the tail end of the formation now being at the head. As this would have resulted in Tōgō's cruisers engaging Rozhestvensky's battleships, he decided to bet on poor Russian gunnery to keep his strategy intact.
The Empire: Both the Japanese and Russian empires. The latter was much larger than the former, though.
Enemy Mine: Makarov and Rozhestvensky had this relationship: Makarov hated Rozhestvensky for his Brutal Honesty getting in the way of politics, and for sleeping with Makarov's wife, Rozhestvensky despised Makarov for being too politicized and being unable to keep his wife in his bed, but they had the utmost respect for each other's skills as sailors and commanders, and when the situation required it before the war they helped each other.
Epic Fail: The Russian Navy, on the 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 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: not only was the presence of two Japanese torpedo boats in the area a known fact (they had just been completed in British shipyards when the war was declared, and then they disappeared), but Japanese intelligence had done everything to make the Russians believe they were laying in ambush. While Admiral Rozhestvensky could recognize a torpedo boat, everyone else was nervous, and when the two torpedo boats apparently did show up the entire 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.
Rozhestvensky was also happy of being shadowed by the Royal Navy: with them around, the surviving torpedo boat (as the Russians were sure they had been there and that they had managed to sink one) would stay away.
For Want of a Nail: Had the shell hitting the main flagship not been a dud, both Heihachiro Tōgō and Isoroku Yamamoto may have been killed.
Had the Russian admiralty given Rozhestvensky enough ammunition to train his gunners, the Second Pacific Squadron might have won at Tsushima.
Had Port Arthur been taken in the summer of 1904 and General Nogi's army been present at Liaoyang, the Russian army might not have escaped the Japanese envelopment to fight another day.
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 Tsar 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 waste time before resupplying and letting him go.
Russian Admirals Oskar Stark, Stepan Makarov and Wilgelm Vitigeft also qualified. Tōgō 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 Tōgō's attempt at sinking the Russian Pacific Fleet in harbour (before being sacked for political reasons), Makarov gave Tōgō a desperate run for his money before his ship was hit by a mine, and Vitigeft nearly defeated Tōgō before being killed.
Foreshadowing: The war foreshadowed later developments in World War I and World War 2 on land (the supremacy of defensive warfare, the need for extremely close artillery-infantry co-ordination to overcome said supremacy, and the need for effective General Staffs with the authority and power to enforce overall and methodical plans for both campaigns and individual battles) and at sea (the importance of inter-ship communications, the need to stick to main and cut down on secondary guns to simplify gunnery [leading to the 'Dreadnaught Revolution'], the incredible effectiveness of mines and torpedoes).
For the Japanese, logistical limitations was a major reason why their forces weren't able to pursue the Russian army after it decided to withdraw. During the Japanese advance on Liaoyang, Kuroki's 1st Army was forced to halt until a rail line could be built to recharge the army's advance.
Early on, the three Russian cruisers operating from Vladivostok posed a serious threat to Japanese shipping supplying their armies in Korea and Manchuria until they were finally run down and destroyed or disabled in August, 1904.
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. To his credit though, he was a competent officer in the General Staff in the 1870s-90s and a distinguished military scholar (he was in some ways Russia's Alfred von Schlieffen). He just didn't have the qualities of a good leader.
General Fock was this to the Russians at Nanshan and Port Arthur. Interestingly enough, he was from a police background, not a military one.
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 country that would take two years to stamp out.
Highly Conspicuous Uniform: The Japanese Army began the war wearing dark blue winter uniforms; after the Yalu battle khaki uniforms were issued, but dark blue-khaki gear combinations could be seen up to the end of the war.
History of Naval Warfare: The last major war waged between fleets of Pre-Dreadnought Battleships (HMS Dreadnought would be launched the next year, with other countries launching similar ships soon after). Also the only time in history that a major battle was waged between two large fleets of battleships that ended in a decisive victory (in World War One, the Battle of Jutland ended in a bloody stalemate, and fleet actions in World War II would be dominated by airpower). This war, along with the Spanish-American War, would also serve as Foreshadowing for World War II, with the nations expanding into the Pacific and taking territory by force from European powers.
As an interesting sidenote, two ships from this battle, the Russian cruiser Aurora and the Japanese battleship Mikasa, survive to this day as museum ships in their home countries.
Kill It with Fire: Japanese ammunitions used Shimose powder as an explosive, a variant of picric acid that was more stable than normal picric acid (which would later be replaced with the more expensive and less powerful TNT precisely because it wouldn't explode if kept just a little improperly) and had an incendiary effect, the latter resulting in the Russian battleships being burned down before sinking.
More Dakka: Many of the war's land engagements had ammunition expenditures in the millions. At Nanshan (1 day) 2.19 million rifle rounds and 34,049 artillery shells were fired—more rounds fired than in the entire Sino-Japanese War; at Mukden (19 days) 20.11 million rifle rounds and 279,394 artillery shells were fired. As a comparison, the Germans used 25 million rifle rounds in the entire Franco-Prussian War (approx. 287 days).
It was the first war that the modern machine gun was used extensively by both sides, with deadly consequences.
Mounted Combat: Both sides used cavalry, with the land war beginning with some cavalry actions in northern Korea. The Russians were better fighting on horseback, as the action at Wu-chia-tun on 30 May 1904 showed. After that battle, Japanese used their cavalry forces in practice as mounted infantry. The two armies used their cavalry forces in various raids as well. In early 1905, Russians made an unsuccessful raid on the Japanese supply station at Inkou while Japanese cavalry forces operated in the Chinese Eastern Railway area.
Never Live It Down: After the incident at Dogger Bank, a British consul took care of warning Rozhestvensky that he was about to reach a fleet of fishing ships. Rozhestvensky was not amused, and told them to stay the hell away since he'd sink anything that could be a torpedo boat.
Obstructive Bureaucrats: Rozhestvensky's bane, who forced him to go to war with insufficient ammunition and wait in Madagascar and Indochina for 'reinforcements' of ships so old it was a miracle they arrived at all, didn't get him a number of British and Italian-built ships from Chile and Argentina that he did want as reinforcements, and were unable or unwilling to get him support from France (an ally, but too scared by Britain and Japan to let Rozhestvensky supply his ships and clean their hulls in the waters of their colonies) or to get the German coal ships to follow his orders.
The ammunition bit was the one that gave Tōgō the victory at Tsushima: had Rozhestvensky had enough ammunition to train his gunners, Tōgō's flagship Mikasa would have been sunk in the first five minutes of the battle, as the Japanese fleet was preparing to 'cross the T' (a dangerous but devastating tactic that allows the fleet in the horizontal line of the virtual T to shell the enemy with all their guns while the vertical line can reply with only the forward guns of the leading ships) and could not fight back the battleships Knyaz Suvorov (Russian flagship), Borodino and Imperator Alexander III yet.
Paranoia Fuel: The self-propelled torpedo. A new invention at the time, it could sink a battleship and could be carried by any ship, from dedicated torpedo boats to cruisers to modified merchantmen. Quite a scare for Rozhestvensky's Second Pacific Squadron...
The reports on the Japanese movement in the North Sea: two of their torpedo boats had disappeared in the area at the start of the war (and, according to Russian accounts, they had actually tried to attack the Russians at Dogger Bank, only to retreat when the Russians spotted them and started firing on anything); Japanese nationals and suspected Japanese spies signaling to unknown ships in the mist; mysterious ships sighted in the area; coal bars for ships' engines found having a cavity in which you could place explosive to wreck a battleship from the inside.
Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Japan; and Admiral Tōgō himself, who was short even by Japanese standards of the time.
Poor Communication Kills: and 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.
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 Port Arthur and 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 and seriously indebted; the country was entirely reliant on gigantic loans from overseas that it was only getting because people believed that Japan would win... and would have dried up as the war turned against her. As it was, Korea's relative natural and mineral wealth meant nothing to a country that now had zero domestic capital (9/10 of all the money in all the banks in the country had been spent as war-loans) with which to develop it and it took them a decade to surpass pre-war levels of prosperity. Even without Manchuria+Korea, Russia was experiencing an economic boom within just five years or so thanks to a flourishing domestic banking sector and a renewed influx of foreign (chiefly French) investment in railways (e.g. the new double-tracked, wide-gauge, high-speed Trans-Siberian railway) in particular.
Shaggy Dog Story: The cruise of the Second Pacific Squadron. They set sail on a voyage never attempted by such a big fleet because it was believed impossible (especially during wartime, when all neutral ports are closed) to try and relieve Port Arthur, the crews became much more competent than at the start, but they not only received news that Port Arthur had fallen when they were almost there, but when they tried to at least reinforce Vladivostok the fleet was destroyed at Tsushima.
Shocking Defeat Legacy: Russia was shaken by the first Russian Revolution as the immediate consequence of the war, destablizing the Tsarist government at its core and, up to a point, setting the stage for the better known Revolution a decade later. Victory by the Japanese, a non-European people, over Russians, a European people, also undermined contemporary racist attitudes and energized anti-colonial movements in various parts of the world.
Took a Level in Badass: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Second Pacific Squadron. The latter set sail from Kronstadt with the worse crews in the Russian Navy since it was created (notably, they had drafted a number of peasants and even convicts to crew the ships and gave them very little training) and arrived at Tsushima with crews just as competent and skilled (if not more) as the elite of the pre-war Russian Navy, the former started the war being about as good as the best of the Russian Navy and fought at Tsushima with a much greater level of skills and competence.
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.
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 against the fortress' eastern defenses were cut down before the Japanese switched their target to a hill on the western defenses, turned it into an artillery spotting post, 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: Tōgō 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. Rozhestvensky already deemed Tōgō 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.
Young Future Famous People: The future Admiral Yamamoto was wounded while serving onboard a cruiser at the Battle of Tsushima as a lieutenant, which cost him a couple of fingers. The future Admiral Kolchak, who would become the head of the strongest White (anti-communist) faction during the Russian Civil War was serving onboard Russian cruiser Varyag at the Battle of Chemulpo (Inchon) at the beginning of the war.
Finnish World War II hero Marshal Mannerheim served as a Russian cavalry colonel in Manchuria at the Battle of Mukden.
Depictions in fiction:
The first part of Diamond Chariot book in Erast Fandorin series is set in Russia during the Russo-Japanese War.
Several of 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 unused 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 Heroine 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 to his opposition to European colonialism, took the Japanese side.
Saka no Ue no Kumo's third season focuses on the Akiyama brothers during the war; it covers the Port Arthur naval battle and siege; the Liaoyang and Mukden land campaigns; and the Tsushima battle.
In An Instinct for War, the short story Human Rain is set during the war, focused on the Battle of Nanshan.
Russian film Admiral, centered around Admiral Alexander Kolchak, starts with the Battle of Chemulpo.
The naval simulation game Distant Guns is set during the war.