The Russo-Japanese War was a conflict fought between 1904 and 1905 that ended with a humiliating defeat for Russia. In my opinion, this was on account of poor leadership, but I think this may have been vastly different is one of Russia's leaders, Vice Admiral Stepan Makarov had not died. In the original timeline, Makarov spotted Japanese ships close to Port Arthur the night of March 31, 1904, but assumed that they were Russian ships on patrol. In this alternate history, Makarov made the realization the the ships were Japanese and takes action against them before they lay the mines that eventually kill him.
Introduction: The Original Timeline
On April 13, 1904, Vice Admiral Stepan Makarov watched as the Japanese warships he was chasing steamed out of range. With the ships beyond his range of fire, he ordered the small contingent of battleships back to shore. However, two miles away from Port Arthur, Makarov's flagship, the Petropavlovsk, detonated a Japanese mine and sunk almost immediately, taking along with it, possibly Russia's most competent leader in the war. With Makarov dead, the Russian First Pacific Squadron, now under the leadership of Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, was routed at the Battle of the Yellow Sea and later, the rest of the fleet was destroyed at Port Arthur. Maj. Gen, Anatoly Stessel, believing their postition hopeless, surrendered Port Arthur to the Japanese on January 2, 1905. The Russian postition in the war continued to move downhill until finally, they sued for peace after the Battle of Tsushima, where the Second Pacific Squadron was all but destroyed. In the aftermath, Russia lost Port Arthur, its influence over Manchuria, its good relationship with Germany, and its morale was crippled, helping lead to the failed Revolution of 1905. Japan, on the other hand, gained much prestige for defeating the Russian Empire, as well as Port Arthur, protectorate over Korea, and half of the island of Sakhalin.
The Russo-Japanese War
The Blockade of Port Arthur
On the cold night of March 31, 1904, Vice Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov observed a small contingent of boats at the enterance of the harbor. At first thought, he assumed that they were the ships he ordered to patrol the harbor, but upon closer observation, he realized that they were Japanese vessels. Soon, gunfire from the mainland came upton the five ships, which began their retreat. In the following encounter, two of the torpedo-boats along with the minelayer, the Koru-Maru, were sunk while another of the torpedo-boats was taken. For the next several days, Makarov made a series of sorties to attempt to break out of the Japanese stranglehold at Port Arthur. Soon after the encounter on March 31, the Russian's decided to employ the Japanese's plan of mining the entrance of the harbor and luring ships in. Eventually this suceeded on April 13, when two Japanese destroyers detonated mines at the entrance of the harbor and quickly sunk, followed by another sortie causing damage to the IJF's ships. On June 9, after months of slowly weakening the Japanese fleet, Makarov, with all of his artillery still on board, attaked the Japanese, and although sustaining losses, broke the Russians out of their postition in Port Arthur. Meanwhile, acknowledging Makarov's request, Moscow dispatched much of its Baltic fleet to the Far East.
In the meantime, Japanese troops had been landing in Korea and quickly took Seoul. By the end of April, the First Army under Major General Kuroki Tamemoto was ready to cross the Yalu into Manchuria. On April 30, Tamemoto attacked the Russian Far Eastern Division outside of Wiju and defeated the Russians, though not without serious losses. Throughout the summer of 1904, the Russian fleet continued to engage the Japanese in the Yellow Sea, as well as attacking convoys to Manchuria. There, the Russians dug entrenchments and held a defensive postition for several months, while the fleet periodically engaged the IJF and defended the coastline.
The Battle of Tsushima and the End of the War
On the night of December 6, 1904, Makarov attacked the Japanese Combined Fleet outside of Masan, Korea, forcing the Japanese to retreat. As the Pacific Fleet gave chase, the Baltic Fleet closed in on the Japanese at the Straits of Tsushima and brought about a crushing defeat for the Japanese, but not without their own losses.
However in Manchuria, Japanese troops continued to advance until they were halted outside of Anshan, were the Russians had dug in. From then on, the land campaign wound down to trench warfare and the war seemed to come to a draw.
The Treaty of Manilla
In April, a now financially exhausted Japan sued for peace. Czar Nicholas II, who at the time was facing some internal strife, agreed, and on June 1, 1905, Russian and Japanese diplomats met in Manilla at a peace conference mediated by American President Theodore Roosevelt. The resulting treaty placed Manchuria firmly in the Russian sphere of influence as well as recognizing Japan's interests in Korea. This set the scene for further tension between the two nations.
1906 - The year 1906 saw increased tensions between nations. In Morocco, France and Germany locked horns during the Tangier Crisis, and in the Far East, Russia continued to send troops and settlers to Manchuria, straining relations further with the Japanese, who continued to move into Korea, and the Qing. Britain, in competition with both the German and Russian navies, launched their battleship, the H.M.S Dreadnought, revolutionizing naval warfare.
1907 - In February 1907, Russia, now stationing a large force in Manchuria, forced China to sign the Sino-Russian Treaty of 1907, allowing them to formally annex Manchuria. In the Qing Empire, anti-foreign riots break out, prompting the other Great Powers to send additional troops into China to protect their interests. In August, the Convention of St. Petersburg was held, where Russia allied with her former rival, Great Britain, in order to counter Germany.
1908 - After the relatively quiet years of 1906 and 1907, discontent manifested itself in January of 1908 in the form of demonstrations and general strikes. On Sunday, January 12, soldiers fired on demonstrators outside the czar's Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, resulting in widespread rioting and disorder. After three months of unrest and several civilian casualties, the the czar issued the April Manifesto, creating a "consultative parliament", the State Duma and giving the promise of a constitution and a bill of rights, on the advice of Sergei Witte, his minister. In the months that followed, the civil unrest slowly calmed. With Russia facing its internal issues, Austria-Hungary made its move on May 29, annexing the province of Bosnia not long after Bulgaria's declaration of independence from Ottoman Turkey.
1909 - In 1909, the Russian Constitution was adopted while in Korea, Japan imposed a treaty and formally annexed its protectorate without much international opposition.
1911 - Italy occupies Libya and the Dodecanese in the Italo-Turkish War.
1912 - Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro form an alliance and proceed to attack the Ottoman Empire in what becomes known as the First Balkan War.
1913 - After the Balkan League falls apart, Bulgaria attacks its former allies in the Second Balkan War.
1914 - The Great War breaks out in Europe following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia, which will involve Britain, France, Russia, and Serbia against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey, and Bulgaria.
The Revolution of 1918
By 1918, the Great War had taken its toll on Europe. In Germany, revolution broke out, and the Kaiser fled to Holland; in eastern Europe, Austria-Hungary collapsed; and in Russia discontent led to strikes and demonstrations. After four years, war seemed to have stopped up in the trenches and all European nations were feeling the effects of the war. In St. Petersburg, riots broke out in September and soon the czar was faced with massive unrest. In areas on the Eastern Front, soldiers deserted and production ground to a halt in cities where workers struck. In Moscow, the Zemstvo Congress, ressembling the National Assembly of the French Revolution, demanded reform. Germany and Austria-Hungary both veering on the edge of collapse, signed an armistice with the Entente Powers on November 6, 1918, hoping to pull their troops from the front and put down revolution by force. Nationalists in Finland and in the Kingdom of Poland revolted against the czar and in late, on the advice of his ministers, signed away his powers as autocrat in the December Manifesto and the affairs of the state were placed in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Duma, which became a legislative assembly. The Manifesto and the Russian Constitution of 1919 that soon followed appeased the Zemstvo Congress and many of the revolutionaries, and once again, the unrest calmed.
Note: Still under construction. Any comments or advice are appreciated.