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Russo-Japanese War

Дата публикации: 04 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Imperial Russia →
Источник: (c) http://russia.by
Номер публикации: №1188912237 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

Was Russia doomed to defeat in the Russo-Japanese War?

Viewpoint: Yes. Russia had inept military leaders who did not plan effectively and who improperly used the available military resources.

Viewpoint: No. Russia had the resources to win the war; the Japanese sued for peace before the full might of Russian military forces could be brought to bear.


Russia fared poorly in its war with Japan in 1904-1905. It lost its forward positions in Manchuria, much of its fleet, and some three hundred thousand casualties. A product of Russian imperial expansion in northwest Asia, the conflict grew out of its ambitions, which clashed with those of the Japanese. Japan wanted Korea, a free hand in southern Manchuria, and general regional hegemony. The Russians had almost exactly the same goals. Japan offered a diplomatic settlement, which the Russians turned down. Faced with no peaceful solution, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Russian positions in the Far East in January 1904.
Given Russia's dismal battlefield performance, many historians doubt it had any chance of winning. Having completed an impressive modernization program, the Japanese army stood strong and competitive, able to marshal qualitatively superior forces against a much larger opponent and inflict significant defeats. Russia's domestic crisis of 1905 further hindered its ability to field effective forces and hope for a turn in fortunes. On the other hand, Japan's early victories came at a tremendous price in blood and money. Its own domestic situation became unstable as the conflict went on. Russia's transportation facilities were improving, and, despite the empire's problems and weaknesses, it stood poised to move hundreds of thousands of fresh troops onto Asian battlefields, forces the Japanese could not match with their much smaller population and military. The conciliatory peace treaty negotiated in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August 1905 was signed because the Japanese knew they lacked the wherewithal to defeat Russia in a longer war.

Viewpoint: Yes. Russia had inept military leaders who did not plan effectively and who improperly used the available military resources.

The Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 shocked the world. For two hundred years, Europe and the West had been habitually dominating the "less advanced" peoples of the world. Americans had swept aside the Native Americans, Africa was carved up, India was controlled by the British through a combination of diplomacy, guile, and warfare, Southeast Asia was seized by the French, and the world's largest and oldest political entity, the Chinese Empire, had been humiliated in the Opium Wars and abjectly split into "spheres of influence" by the West. For Russia, the largest of the great powers, to be defeated by a smaller Asian country such as Japan was inconceivable. Characteristically for such historical "surprises," however, there were plenty of warning signs. Despite their ultimate victories, Westerners had been defeated by non-Westerners on several other rather dramatic occasions. The American Indian wars gave U.S. troops their share of reverses, and the Ethiopians handed out a sound drubbing to the Italians in 1896. Nor was Afghanistan a walkover for the British: their first invasion in 1839 ended in a total disaster, which one lone soldier of the British Indian Army survived. The contest between Russia and Japan in 1904-1905 was much more evenly matched than the casual observer might have thought.

A glimpse at the map might suggest that Russia, geographically the largest country in the world then and now, should have had no trouble defeating Japan. Even in terms of raw population numbers, the difference in size should have given the Russians a tremendous advantage: they outnumbered the Japanese by 136 million to 45 million, or about three to one. The Russian army numbered about 2 million active troops while the Japanese standing army was about 400,000. In a simple contest of numbers, the war should have been over before it began.

Yet, these factors alone were poor indicators. Russia's military was largely deployed in the west and south in anticipation of conflicts with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Britain, leaving only 150,000 men in the East. Russia's huge minority populations demanded that its soldiers be stretched rather thinly across huge territories stretching from Poland to Korea. Concentrating troops in the Far East, where they would logically need to be to fight Japan, imposed a huge burden upon the Trans-Siberian railway, a single- track line that remained unfinished until 1916. In 1904 it still had a gap of several hundred miles over difficult terrain. Even its finished segments were not run along the standards of professionalism and punctuality seen in Western Europe, the United States, or, for that matter, Japan. Moving troops and supplies to the Far East was a dicey proposition under the best conditions. Siberia's sparse population and tiny productive capacity, however, made it difficult for Russia to have done better.

Russia's estate-based society also weakened its military and naval forces. Though reforms in the empire had made it possible for men of ability to rise in Russia's military, they had not yet risen to a position of dominance. Russia strongly resisted the European trend in military professionalization, and the Russians failed to adopt the German practice of having an officer of real competence shadow the noble titular head of military formations. While there were indeed some nobles of quality who reached positions of authority, there was no guarantee that those in command would be competent. When it came time to fight the Japanese, Russian generals and admirals often displayed dangerous incompetence or lack of initiative, unfortunate qualities that could have been avoided if their positions had been more open to talent. Several opportunities to attack exposed Japanese formations or to track Japanese maneuvers on land passed unexploited. The Russian navy lost all of its engagements due to plain incompetence, haste, and a lack of discipline and practice. After the Baltic Fleet finally arrived at Tsushima Straits in time for its utter destruction in May 1905, the war was decided.

The outcome of the Russo-Japanese War, unlike the other wars the West had fought against non-Western peoples, was not determined by technological differences. By and large the two sides were evenly matched on this count. Despite Russia's logistical difficulties, the two opponents' numbers were evenly matched and the quality of their equipment largely equivalent. This equivalence reveals the real core of the difference between Japan and Russia. While Russia labored slowly to reform itself, Japan saw the writing on the wall and took the plunge to modernize as fast as possible. It is an interesting parallel that the two most radical decisions Japan took in the course of the last five hundred years were based upon its observations of what the West was doing to the world. Japan's decision in 1630 to cut off the outside world was based upon what the Spanish had done to subjugate the Philippines. By the time Tokyo (Edo) was compelled to open to the world in 1853, it had seen what the British had done to China and decided simply that it was best to be part of the world of technological and industrial power. Accordingly, feudalism was abolished with a stroke, and Japan adopted the best practices of the modern world, no matter where they might be found. Paris was seen as the most beautiful and desirable city in the world, and therefore municipal administration was learned from the French. The Germans, sweeping to European domination by the time of national unification in 1871, had the most modern and powerful state, so their constitution and army were copied in toto. The British had the world's foremost navy, and it was also copied. Railway experts, engineers, machine makers, teachers, military officers, and naval officers were hired and brought to Japan in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s the Japanese turned to sending their best and brightest youths around the world to learn how the West did things and then put that knowledge into practice at home. Western-style universities and factories were built. Individuals adopted western fashions in dress and entertainments. They did this with élan and discipline in part because the Japanese had experienced notable levels of urbanization, but also because Japan's philosophical ethos was modeled after Bushido, the code of the Samurai, emphasizing self-discipline, loyalty, and work. The Japanese became one of the most modern countries in the world in the space of a generation. It remains one of the most remarkable examples of deliberate social transformation in human history.

By the time they went to war with the Russians in February 1904, the Japanese were aided by a confluence of good strategy, geography, and the ineptitude of their opponents. Japan had a limited strategy in the war, namely to expel the Russians from Manchuria and force them to recognize Japan's domination and rights in that area as well as in Korea. Only the Russian mission's skill at the Portsmouth peace negotiations in 1905 kept Japan from a total strategic success, as it was able to withhold recognition of Japanese prominence in Manchuria. In the field, the Japanese succeeded in most engagements. Benefiting from a home base much closer to the field of action, the Japanese needed only to lay siege to a handful of relatively small Russian outposts, the largest of which was the naval base at Port Arthur. Military technology being what it was at the time, the siege of Port Arthur was mostly a problem of engineering (trench digging) combined with the skillful application of artillery, two areas in which Japan, going through a modernizing wave of technological adoption, was well suited. Despite a heroic defense, the base surrendered in December 1904. The coup de grace of Russia's poor performance, however, must remain the dismal performance of its Baltic Fleet. Indeed, it was so poorly trained that as it passed the Dogger Bank, close to the British Isles, its fully intoxicated officers opened fire upon a number of British fishing boats in the fanciful belief that they were Japanese torpedo boats. That Britain was a noncombatant ally of Japan did nothing to help the Russians in the circumstances. The logistics of the voyage suffered from a characteristic lack of thorough planning and discipline in execution, and the squadron arrived in the Tsushima Straits in only a marginally operational state after an inordinately long voyage. The British-trained commander of the Japanese Fleet, Admiral Togo, dispatched most of the Baltic Fleet to the bottom of the sea in a few hours, leaving only a handful of Russian ships left floating.

Military history teaches that victory does not always go to the larger power. If there is a rough equivalence in the level of technology, then the outcomes of war depend on many other factors. Geographical realities play their part, but it is hard to underestimate the role played by the human mind. The mind creates strategies, social structures, and the discipline, education, and training that result in solid leadership. These factors can combine to provide victory. In 1904-1905 Japan was essentially a more conscientiously modern country than Russia and was therefore poised for victory even before the first shots were fired.

-- Phil Giltner, Albany Academy

Viewpoint: No. Russia had the resources to win the war; the Japanese sued for peace before the full might of Russian military forces could be brought to bear.

Russia could have defeated Japan in the war the two countries began in 1904. Although Japanese forces secured early tactical victories, they lacked the will, resources, and manpower reserves to emerge victorious in a drawn-out conflict and could not have hoped to best Russia had the war continued much beyond its twenty-month duration. The peace treaty signed by the two powers under American auspices at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August 1905 merely put a short stop to what would almost certainly have resulted in a Russian victory.

The terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth indicated that the Japanese did not expect a positive outcome to a prolonged war. In the first place, to secure American mediation they had to agree to a private diplomatic protocol that acknowledged American supremacy in the Philippines, a step they were unlikely to have taken in the absence of desperation. Although the terms of the peace did not represent a complete return to the status quo ante bellum, Russia suffered relatively little. Both Russia and Japan agreed to withdraw from the mineral-rich province of Manchuria, something Russia had promised to do at the end of the multipower intervention against China's Boxer Rebellion but refused to effect in practice. Sovereignty over Manchuria was restored to the Chinese Empire, though Japan was granted strategic leasing rights in its southern region. Russia also surrendered the southern two-fifths of Sakhalin Island. Japan gained supremacy in Korea, but despite some minor Russian challenges this had been an accomplished fact before the war. Japan thus failed to achieve most of its initial goals. It abandoned its ambition to seize Manchuria, the greatest prize in the region, and failed to take all of Sakhalin, which Japan had formally claimed between 1845 and 1875. Japan also foreswore claims to a financial indemnity from its adversary, a virtual given for any victorious power in the prevailing international system.

Japan's settlement on these terms was unpopular domestically. Having promised much more for its people's sacrifices, the government faced major riots when the Treaty of Portsmouth became public. Martial law had to be imposed through the autumn of 1905, the offices of the only newspaper favorable to the treaty were burned, one thousand civilians were killed or injured, and strong anti-American sentiment, which found fatal expression in December 1941, began to take root. Deep dissatisfaction also led directly to the collapse of Prime Minister Katsura Taro's cabinet just a few months later.

Russia's treaty negotiator, Sergei Witte, a figure associated with political reform and economic modernization, was hailed as a diplomatic genius for extricating Russia from the war with minimal losses, but credit was not necessarily due to his bargaining skills. Japan settled the conflict on easy terms because it simply could not continue fighting. The history of the conflict on the Japanese side, frequently neglected by historians of Russia, was no happy one. By the time the peace treaty was signed, Japan faced, in addition to rising domestic unrest, an empty treasury and nearly 200,000 battlefield casualties. Popular opinion had turned dramatically against this costly war, which forced Japan to negotiate three foreign loans totaling a staggering 52 million pounds sterling. Although antigovernment demonstrations worsened after the signing of the peace treaty, in wartime they loomed almost as large as those that began to paralyze Russia during its domestic political crisis of 1905.

Japan thus tottered on the brink of a crisis. Although Japanese casualty figures equaled only about two-thirds of those inflicted on Russian forces, they nevertheless augured ill for Japan's long-term war effort. Russia, with a population of 136 million and a correspondingly enormous number of men eligible for military service, could absorb its losses, which approached 300,000 by the end of the conflict, just as it had in earlier conflicts and would in later ones in which it emerged victorious. For Japan, with about one-third Russia's population (45 million) and one-fifth the number of men under arms--400,000 versus Russia's 2 million--the losses meant that half of its mobilized troops were out of commission. These included high proportions of first-rank professional soldiers and the most reliable reserves. Further military action would have had to rely almost exclusively on Japan's second- and third-rank recruits, who were vastly outnumbered by Russia's much larger pool of troops. Even without further mobilization, once the battle losses were deducted from standing strengths, Russia's forces outnumbered Japan's by more than eight to one--1.7 million to 200,000. Japan did win impressive naval victories over the Russians, but maritime prowess could not translate into a decisive advantage on land.

Although Russia had not been able to concentrate all of its forces in the Far East in the early phases of the war, they were beginning to appear as the conflict came to its end. Indeed, part of the reason why they had not been deployed earlier was that the standing Russian forces in the Far East had already outnumbered the Japanese, and the high command did not see the need for more troops from other regions. Improvements in ground transportation to the Far East made the flow of troops and supplies much easier and more routine over time. By the conclusion of the peace treaty, the Trans-Siberian railway, despite being unfinished, was moving men and matériel across Eurasia at four times the prewar rate. Had the war continued for a few more months, Russia's numerical advantages in men and supply would have overwhelmed the Japanese, and the latter's negotiators knew it when they gave up their most important objectives in the peace talks.

In battles, moreover, the Japanese victories were never easy. Most depended on costly frontal assaults and lasted for weeks or even months. At the Yellow Sea naval base of Port Arthur, the Russians put up a fierce defense against strong numerical odds. The siege lasted for nearly a year before the Japanese could force a decision, and then at a cost of nearly twice the total number of Russian casualties. Major land battles at Liaoyang and Mukden each cost the Japanese tens of thousands of casualties, admittedly smaller than the Russian figures, but serious nevertheless. Given the Japanese public's opposition to the war, the conflict's drain on Japanese finances, and the exhaustion of Japan's best troops, it would be correct to describe these victories as Pyrrhic. At no point did the Japanese cross the Russian border, nor did they achieve the strategic victory of destroying or driving out the main body of Russian forces in Manchuria. Indeed, after the battle of Mukden in February-March 1905, the Japanese high command decided that it could not afford to undertake offensive operations in the spring campaign season, and no important land engagements took place before the conclusion of peace in August. The Russians, in the meantime, fell back on fortified positions at the strategic city of Harbin and collected reinforcements for which Japan's draft-age population had no answer.

Japan long remembered its serious difficulties challenging Russia in 1904-1905 and its disappointing gains in the Treaty of Portsmouth. Faced with the strategic choice of attacking Russia again in the 1930s and 1940s or of moving against China and European and American possessions in the Pacific, its leaders chose the latter course. Tellingly, many of the strategic planners who influenced that decision had been junior officers stung by their tribulations a generation earlier.

-- Paul du Quenoy, American University in Cairo


This article appeared in an American military periodical in August 1906 and examined the reasons for the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War:

The news that Admiral Rojestvensky, on his trial by courts martial, has pleaded guilty of surrendering a warship in the battle of the sea of Japan, following as it does the trial of Admiral Nebogatoff for the surrender of a division of the fleet and the conviction and punishment of General Stoessel for the surrender of Port Arthur, raises two questions: First, whether these commanders have been justly condemned; and secondly, whether the Russians proved themselves formidable opponents in respect either of generalship or of soldiership during the far eastern war.

Let us look first at the cases of Rojestvensky and Nebogatoff. The latest student of the war from the naval point of view, Mr. F. T. Jane, though a fervent admirer of the Japanese, admits that while the Baltic Fleet was hastily organized and poorly officered, it kept station well enough to excite remark when it reached Singapore, and in several other matters was found to be superior to what had been expected. The credit for some approach to efficiency is given entirely to Admiral Rojestvensky, whose abilities, owing to his ultimate defeat in the Tsushima Straits, have not, in Mr. Jane's opinion, been properly recognized. How did it happen that Rojestvensky chose the inside route for Vladisvostok through the Sea of Japan and on the eve of Togo's attack made the mistake of forming his vessels in two battle lines? It appears that Rojestvensky's scouts had sighted what they took to be the main Japanese fleet off Formosa, and there is no doubt that the Baltic Fleet when it entered the Straits of Tsushima believed the bulk of the Japanese navy to be behind it and the way to Vladivostok to be barred only by a certain number of torpedo craft and cruisers, through which in the fog it had a fair chance of passing unobserved. Mr. Jane holds that Rojestvensky's formation in two battle lines was a sound enough one, in view of attacks from small craft only, while on the other hand it was so obviously and hopelessly bad against a battle fleet attack that it seems of itself conclusive evidence that Rojestvensky never expected to meet Togo when he did.

What the Russians assert is probably true, that the sudden discovery that they were faced with a fleet action overwhelmed them completely. Even so they were able during the following night to act sufficiently in unison to beat off two torpedo attacks, and the wonder is that they held together so long, not that they scattered so soon. Once scattered, their destruction was easy and inevitable. Yet it is to be noted that even at the end only the four ships composing the division commanded by Nebogatoff and the destroyer Bedovy, on which Rojestvensky's party had taken refuge, were sufficiently demoralized to surrender. Rojestvensky, though he pointed out that at the time he was dazed and out of his head, has acknowledged to the court martial that he took no measures to avert the surrender of the Bedovy, and Nebogatoff on his trial pleaded that if he had continued fighting he would only have caused a sacrifice of life. This was doubtless true, but Mr. Jane concurs with many naval officers in thinking the degradation inflicted on Nebogatoff by the Russian admiralty is justified by expediency not only because the Japanese in similar circumstances would never have surrendered, but also because the Russians in the same war and even the same battle had set a better example. The Oushakoff, for instance, refused to surrender, and sank still firing. In an earlier fight near the same spot the Rurik had chosen a similar fate. The deaths of those who went down in the Rurik and the Oushakoff were by no means fruitless, but on the contrary were almost as useful to the Russian navy of the future as if they had occurred in the hour of victory. Mr. Jane reminds us that if the principle of justified surrender should be admitted it would prove impracticable to draw the line. He looks, therefore, upon the merciless degradation of Nebogatoff and his captains by the Russian admiralty as perhaps its one strong action during the war. With that action is compared the course of the Chinese authorities, who executed every man left alive after the surrender of Wei-hai-Wei in the Chino-Japanese war, and the Carthaginian practice of crucifying a defeated leader. It will be remembered that the British navy received a similar warning against incapacity when Admiral Byng was put to death for his defeat off Minorca. It is certain that the orders of the Russian admiralty were very clear. They were that in the face of defeat a captain was to destroy his ship. This had been done by the captains of the Variag and Korietz and it had been done, though not very thoroughly, by the naval officers when general Stoessel surrendered Port Arthur, it was done by most of the captains of the ill-starred Baltic fleet, and ought to have been done by Nebogatoff and Rojestvensky, though in the latter's case there may have been extenuating circumstances.

As for Stoessel, who figured as a hero in and outside of Russia while as yet the facts were imperfectly known, it was established before the court martial when he came to be tried that, although the garrison in Port Arthur was exposed to a murderous plunging fire after the Japanese had gained possession of the surrounding heights, yet the fortress was still supplied with enough food and munitions of war to resist for months. Not only on this account was Stoessel justly sentenced, but in view of the grave consequences attributable to the surrender. A force comprising almost a hundred thousand Japanese veterans was thus set free to take part in the operations around Mukden against the main Russian army. Who will attempt to measure what this accession of strength may have meant to the Japanese when the fact is recalled that, even as it was, the Russians, though thrice beaten on the field, were never routed?

Our conclusion is that in the military operations of which Manchuria was the theater the Russians were not signally outgeneraled by the Japanese, otherwise their losses must have been much greater than were actually experienced. As for the supposed superiority of the Japanese in naval strategy, Mr. Jane, for his part, concedes that Rojestvensky's formation in Tsushima Straits, in view that he expected only a torpedo attack, was not a bad formation at all, and that it is hard to conceive that Togo, with Rojestvensky's general orders and with the special problems to be solved by the latter, would have done anything materially different up to the hour of battle. Nevertheless, we can not conceive of Togo as losing the ensuing fight, because every individual officer and every individual seaman would have died rather than forfeit victory. This brings us to the capital reason for the success of the Japanese. The Russians were not so much outgeneraled as they were outfought, and they were outfought because they were lukewarm and not wrought to desperation as they had been in the Crimea and in resistance to Napoleon's invasion; whereas every Japanese soldier and sailor believed, as was indeed the truth, that his country's fate was at stake and that his personal conduct might decide the issue.

Source: The Army and Navy Register, 11 August 1906.



Richard M. Connaughton, The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: A Military History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5 (London & New York: Routledge, 1991).

Michael J. F. McCarthy, The Coming Power: A Contemporary History of the Far East, 1898-1905 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905).

David M. McDonald, United Government and Foreign Policy in Russia, 1900-1914 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).

Bruce Menning, Bayonets Before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

Ian H. Nish, The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War (London & New York: Longman, 1985).

Shumpei Okamoto, The Japanese Oligarchy and the Russo-Japanese War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001).

Francis R. Sedgwick, The Campaign in Manchuria 1904 to 1905: Second Period--The Decisive Battles, 22nd Aug. to 17th Oct. 1904 (London: George Allen, 1912).

David Walder, The Short Victorious War: The Russo-Japanese Conflict, 1904-5 (London: Hutchinson, 1973).

J. N. Westwood, The Illustrated History of the Russo-Japanese War (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1973).

Westwood, Russia against Japan, 1904-1905. A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986).

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

Опубликовано 04 сентября 2007 года

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