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The Russo-Japanese War was a military conflict between the old imperial power of Russia and the upstart industrial nation of Japan over influence in China and Northern Asia. The result would be an indecisive conclusion: Russia retained all its rights in China, while Japan had only gained minor trade concessions from Russia and Alyseka, a "dominion" of Russia at the time.
Causes of the War
Russia had, for many years, laid claim to protect the Mongolian people, and in 1899 had pressured China to allow them to build a line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad directly to its great Pacific port of Vladivostok. However, at the same time, Japan had been pressuring the tottering monarchy in China as well, demanding favorable trading rights, and convinced the incompetent administration to block further Russian demands.
At this time, Japan had been industrializing at a breakneck pace, urged and supported by French and other Western powers. However, the Japanese Home Islands were poor, and did not possess the resources needed to compete with the other powers of Europe. Having battled China in 1873, which annexed Korea and drew massive concessions, including the right to march across Manchuria, and defeated Spain in the Spanish-Japanese War in 1897, taking over the Philippines, Guam and numerous other islands in a short, victorious campaign, lead them to believe that they were nearly invincible, and on par with the other great powers in the world.
Outbreak of War
The cause for the war was a relatively minor incident: on March 19, a Japanese fishing boat strayed to close to the outer defenses of Vladivostok, and, after repeated warnings in both Russian and Japanese to turn back (though to no avail), the cannon fired on the boat, severely damaging it. The boat fled to a nearby Japanese destroyer, which radioed Tokyo with the news. This caused a massive outcry in Japan, and demanded that Russia compensate the fishermen. Russia agreed to do so, still uncertain of what state the military was in to be able to confront the Japanese at the moment. However, Japan took the further step of demanding concessions of fishing rights, as well as economic privileges in Siberia. Czar Nicholas II would have none of it, and ordered a small mobilization of reserves to be sent to Vladivostok on March 26.
Japan, realizing it had bit off more than it could chew, tried to bluster her way out of it; on March 29, they demanded that Russia stand down in 24 hours. This deadline was too short: decoding delays at the Japanese Embassy, as well as the time difference, meant that, by the time it reached the Prime Minister of Russia, Count Sergei Witte, it only gave the Russian government 12 hours to reply, but Japan, in a moment of haste, had cut the telegraph lines between Japan and Russia, seeking to make sure Czarist agent's couldn't communicate with Moscow, but in reality ensuring war.
Count Witte rose to the Duma on April 2, and announced that, since Japan refused to hear the response to the ultimatum, a state of war now existed between Japan and Russia.
Japan had been waiting for this moment ever since they had defeated Spain a decade before: a chance to defeat one of the Great European Powers. Japan was extremely confident of victory, and had already, secretly, mobilized the army, and had prepared to send 75,000 men at once to Korea, and then to take advantage of the ability to cross Manchuria to siege Vladivostok.
Russia, on the other hand, knew that her Pacific Fleet was unsuitable to confront the mighty, new Japanese navy. Therefore, the decision to send the Baltic Fleet to the Pacific was issued on April 6. This fleet, composed of the most modern of Russian battleships from France and America, as well as powerful home built ships like the St. Petersburg and the Moscow, which should hold its own against the best of the Japanese. A near incident were an overzealous destroyer commander believed that British fishing boats was a flotilla of Japanese destroyers was avoided, and the British, unaware of how close the Russians came to fire on the fishing boats, allowed the fleet to use the Suez Canal, cutting the trip by half, and allowing gunnery training that the Russian commander, Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky knew his fleet had lacked.
Meanwhile, with Vladivostok under siege, the Russian commander, Field Marshall Aleksey Kuropatkin knew that he either had to hold out for the Russian fleet approaching, reinforcements assembling along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, or to try to break out himself. However, Japanese attacks on the port made his mind up, and he decided to hold up. He allowed his commanders flexibility to defend their positions, and the use of machine guns had exacted a heavy toll on Japanese forces. However, General Ōyama Iwao knew that he, one of the founders of the modern Japanese Army, must win the battle, so threw everything he had into battle on May 4. This, against heavily prepared defensive positions, proved to be a costly indecision, as, though Russian troops fell back to other defensive positions, the Japanese suffered horrendous casualties: entire platoons and companies being mauled and written off.
Capture of Vladivostok
However, despite the Japanese casualties, the Russians were still outnumbered, and would be for at least two more weeks before any reinforcements could arrive. Czar Nicholas II sent a telegram to Kuropatkin, extolling him to hold on as long as possible, and that "All of Russia is watching, and waiting for the inevitable victory." However, the Field Marshall was feeling the strain, and after another Japanese attack on May 15, the Russian commander suffered a massive heart attack, and died. The Japanese, hearing of the Russian misfortune, tried harder, and threw another attack at the beleaguered city.
It was enough. The Russian lines at last broke, and the Japanese flooded through the gap in the lines and surrounded the defenders, a few of whom tried to fight to the last, but the vast majority of the 25,000 men left surrendered. However, they held up the Japanese Army of 120,000 for over three weeks, allowing enough time for reinforcements to be assembled and shipped to the Pacific.
Battle of the South China Sea
With the fall of Vladivostok, the Russian Fleet stationed there tried to break out, and managed to force the blockading fleet to withdraw. They hurried steamed southwards, trying to get a hold of Admiral Rozhestvensky and the Baltic Fleet, which had just sailed past Singapore on May 16. However, the lack of wireless security allowed the Japanese to catch up track the Russian fleet, and, despite attempts to smash the fleet before they could rendezvous with reinforcements, they failed, and the combined Russian fleet turned against the pursuing Japanese south of Korea. The massive Battle of the South China Sea, which was the first major naval battle between two nearly equal fleets technologically since Trafalgar 99 years before, resulted in major damage to both fleets, but ultimately the Japanese Fleet under Admiral Tojo was forced to retire, having lost three battleships and suffered damage to five more out of a fleet of ten, though Russia had lost four, including the newer Moscow in a massive explosion from the detonation of her forward magazines, and suffered damage to another four, including the flag ship Potemkin (which injured Admiral Rozhestvensky) out of a fleet of 11.
With the Russian naval victory, the fleet sailed northwards and blockaded the Japanese in Vladivostok, sinking supply ships (which was the only way to reinforce the city after a couple rail lines were cut by Korean Patriots in the pay of the Czar). The Japanese Army, part of which had been withdrawn to try to march into Northern Manchuria and cut the Trans Siberian Railroad before reinforcements could arrive, was starving, lacked much ammunition, and suffered from low morale.
The Battle of Ningguta
However, the Japanese Army was to late to cut the line, and the Russian reinforcements had arrived in the Manchurian city of Ningguta on May 24, to prepare to march to Vladivostok. The Russian Army, under Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich was assembled to march when reports of the Japanese moving from the south made the Grand Duke turn his army around to confront the enemy. The Japanese under General Iwoa didn't know that the Russian's were already in the city he was seeking to capture, so when his forward lines came under fire, he assumed it was perhaps "franc-de-tieurs", so sent two regiments to try to suppress them. However, they stumbled on the main block of the Russian Army, and were swiftly defeated, and the hole in the Japanese line was swiftly exploited, cutting off the forward and rear sections.
General Iwoa, stunned to see the Russians having split his army in half, tried to cut them off in turn. However, the line was defended, and under a young officer named Iosiv Stalin, the Russians held the Japanese back, and ultimately counterattacked.
The front half, now realizing they were cut off (after Russian cavalry attacked both flanks), tried to withdraw and escape the trap, but soon they realized that they couldn't rejoin the other half. 35,000 men dug in and decided to stand to the last. They managed to hold back the Russian's twice, but, running low on ammunition, the commander, Count Nogi Maresuke, ordered a bayonet charge. However, the Russian machine guns cut down the charge, which killed over 7000 men, wounding 8000 more. This, on top of earlier losses, left the Japanese in no position to stand, so they surrendered, Count Marasuke committing seppuku rather than surrendering to the Russians.
The rear half was ordered to retreat under General Iwoa, who withdrew back to Vladivostok to try to hold the city until more reinforcements could arrive.
Grand Duke Nicholas was proclaimed a hero for the victory, and was ordered to march straight on to the captured city. However, the Battle of Ningguta had severely damaged and weakened his army, so he instead held back to try to rebuild and get more reinforcements.
Battle of Danjo Islands
The Russian Navy, victorious in the Battle of the South China Sea, trailed the retreating Japanese as they fell back toward Japan. Admiral Rozhestvensky, injured in the previous battle, managed to finally catch up to the enemy off the small Danjo Islands, where coaling ships were waiting to refuel the Japanese. The equal sides, both with seven battleships, faced each other again, the Russians hoping to capture the coaling ships as their bunkers where getting depleted, and might not reach their Chinese base at Port Arthur, much less any Siberian base.
A stiff battle was fought on June 4, but eventually Admiral Tojo and the Japanese, two of their damaged ships being forced to run aground, were forced to retreat again. While the Russians lost another battleship in the battle, they managed to capture three of the coalers, and managed to evacuate some of the coal from the beached Japanese warships before the fear of possible Japanese reinforcement, in the form of torpedo boats, might come to attack the Russians.
Before arriving in Nagasaki Harbor, Admiral Togo radioed to Tokyo of the disaster, and asked the Emperor if he could commit seppuku. However, Emperor Meiji refused, replying that "It is not dishonor to be defeated by a worthy foe," which, considering the tough battles on land and sea, was the way the Emperor choose to consider the Russians.
The Second Siege of Vladivostok
The delay in time that Grand Duke Nicholas used after the victory of Ningguta was spent reforming the Russian army to march straight on Vladivostok. However, increasingly impatient Czar Nicholas II sent telegram after telegram to march. By June 15, although he still felt he was not ready, the Grand Duke at last began the march back to Vladivostok, fortified with troops sent from the Russian dominion of Alyseka.
However, the time was enough to allow the Japanese, under the command of General Iwoa, to fall back and rebuild the Russian defenses, and in some cases improve them. Cavalry skirmishes between the two further delayed the Russians for over a month, by which time much needed Japanese reinforcements arrived to help hold the city.
The Grand Duke, mentally exhausted after the bitter battle, was resigned to simply laying siege to the city, but his under officers suggested an immediate attack to capture the city. However, the Japanese got wind of the plans, and mowed down the first attack on July 23. After this, the Grand Duke got his way, and began an incessant artillery barrage of the city. He said he was "prepared to fire every round in the store houses of Yekaterinburg (the supply depot of the Siberian Army) to save a single Russian soldier." He was true to his word, and the artillery barrage destroyed much of the city, sometimes the shells reaching up to 150 an hour, for three months. He was waiting for the Russian Navy to complete a blockade of Vladivostok, and then starve the Japanese into submission.
General Iwoa was unprepared for the artillery, which was more focused on the supply depots and the harbor than the actual defenses, which resulted in a vast reduction of supplies. The arrival of Admiral Rozhestvensky on September 4 cut off the last hope for reinforcement from Japan, at which point he radioed Tokyo for instructions.
The General Staff where prepared to order him to either hold out, or charge at the Russians, but the Foreign Ministry, having received multiple requests for a ceasefire and armistice from Russia through England and the Confederate States of America. The Emperor at last decided to begin negotiations, as the Japanese Army and navy were in no shape to continue the conflict.
Negotiations and Peace
On October 2, 1902, Japanese Foreign Minister Baron Komura and Russian Prime Minister Count Sergei Witte lead their respective delegations to Norfolk, Virginia, where President Newton C. Blanchard hosted the meeting. After three months, the two sides reached an agreement, and signed the Treaty of Norfolk on January 6, 1903.
The Peace allowed the Japanese Army in Vladivostok to return home by March, and Vladivostok turned over on March 15. In turn, Russia granted trade rights to Japan in Siberia and Alyseka, while Russia and Japan retained all rights currently held in China. Port Arthur was to remain Russian until at least 1925, at which time negotiations between Japan, China and Russia would be held to decide its future.
As well, a 20-year non-aggression pact was signed, and this laid the basis for their pseudo-alliance in the Second Global War in seven years. Neither side was decisively defeated, although Japan clearly suffered more than did Russia.
Impact and Aftermath
The lessons learned in the war by both sides were hastily implemented in both military's in the years after the war. Both sides gained a wary respect for the other: Russian artillery, gunnery and quick thinking, and Japanese tenacity, courage and technology.
The indecisiveness of the war put a damper on Japanese expansion, although the Second Global War gave it the chance to expand its influence in China, ultimately replacing Russia in Manchuria in the aftermath of the war and the defeat of China, which was mostly undertaken by Japan, although some Russian units fought in the Manchurian front.
The resources that Japanese capital helped invest in Siberia helped fuel the rapid industrialization of both nations in the years after the war, but both nations were still nervous of each other's intentions. However, they also got along decently even in time up to the Third Global War, although the start of the Tri-Powers Conflict finally led to a break between the two.