The Russo-Japanese war was an armed conflict between the Russian Empire and the Japanese Empire, which began in 1904 and ended in 1905.
Considered as the first great war of the 20th Century, the conflict broke out on 8 February 1904 when the two Empires wanted to expand their power and influence by taking over Korea and Manchuria, which they both regarded as strategically and economically important.
The war was mostly fought on the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden, the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea.
WHAT DID THEY WANT?
Although the politics of Russia and Japan were very complicated, both wanted to gain land and economic benefit from Korea and the historical region of northeastern China, Manchuria.
The Russians wanted a ‘warm-water port’ on the Pacific Ocean for their navy and trade.
The harbour at Vladivostok freezes over in the winter, but Port Arthur (now called the Liaodong Peninsula in China) can be used at all times.
Russia had already rented the port from the King and had their permission to build a railway from St Petersburg to Port Arthur which was expected to be completed in 1906.
The Japanese, on the other hand, wanted to expand its empire into Korea and China.
Initially, Japan thought that they would lose the war if Russia managed to complete its railway in 1906 as they could supply a large number of troops there.
However, if Japan refused to go to war, it would mean that they would have to compromise with Russia, in which the latter would get a better deal.
Since Japan wanted a bigger share of Korea and China, they decided to attack Russia before the railway was completed.
At the beginning of the war, the Japanese navy launched a ‘surprise attack’ on the Russian fleet moored outside Port Arthur in Manchuria, and also deployed troops at Chemulpo in Korea.
WHO DOMINATED THE WAR?
The Japanese Empire won every single battle in the war. The Russian naval forces based in Port Arthur were upset by the losses that they had suffered, including the death of their charismatic commander, Admiral Stepan Makarov, when his flagship was blown up by a mine in April 1904.
Their ships spent most of the time in harbour before trying to escape on 10 August 1904 round the Korean peninsula to a province in far eastern Russia, known as Vladivostok.
In the ensuing battle of the Yellow Sea, the flagship known as the Tsarevitch, was horribly damaged, and the battle line fell into confusion before retreating to harbour.
Eventually the fleet was destroyed by the Japanese forces who surrounded Port Arthur from the landside, and the port itself surrendered in January 1905.
The Russians sent another fleet to the far east in an effort to ‘make things better’, but it was also destroyed by the Japanese at the battle of Tsushima in May 1905.
REPURCUSSIONS OF THE WAR
Japan’s victory in the war greatly encouraged the rise of nationalism in Asia and Africa as it was the first war ever that witnessed the defeat of a great European power by hands of a non-European nation.
The Japanese utilized all the resources of modern technology to gain victory.
The war also raised the international profile of the United States. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who convened the conference at Portsmouth in the USA that ended the conflict in September 1905 thus earning the president the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Russia however, the war led to revolts that presaged the revolution of 1917, and showed how politically destabilising defeat would be in future conflicts.
The only part of the Russian state that had performed effectively was the Trans-Siberian Railway, which had kept hundreds of thousands of troops supplied thousands of miles from St Petersburg.
The war also managed to reveal the general weakness of old-fashioned autocracies.
Russia for example, could not mobilise the support of its people and every European autocrat involved in the First World War were ousted.