The Russo-Japanese War (10 February 1904 - 5 September 1905), also known as the Manchuria Campaign in some English sources, grew out of competing imperialist interests of the Russian and Japanese Empires in far East Asia to establish their own 'spheres of influence, primarily dealing with control of Manchuria and Korea. The major fields of battle were Southern Manchuria, specifically the area around the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden, and the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea.
The Russian Empire was in pursuit of a warm-water port, a port where the water does not freeze over in winter, on the Pacific Ocean to find a place to house it's Navy as well as for maritime trade. The search came to Port Arthur, a town on the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula in China. Just two years after having forced Japan from occupying the port with the threat of war, a Russian fleet appeared off Port Arthur, and Russia forced China into leasing the port to them. Subsequent encroachment of Chinese territory by Russia, so close to Japanese territorial possessions in Manchuria and Korea, led to fear in Japan that Russia was threatening it's Imperial claims. Negotiations to settle the dispute diplomatically failed, and Japan issued a declaration of war on 8 February 1904 in a move to protect it's dominance in Korea. The Tsar government in Russia, meanwhile, saw the war as a way to distract the populace from government repression and rally the country in Patriotism, after having experience several general strikes among the working class.
The following campaigns saw the fledgling Japanese military score a string of victories against Russian forces, surprising international observers and increasing political dissatisfaction among the populace of Russia. The war changed the political balance of East Asia, seeing the newly emergent Japan playing a more crucial role in political and economic affairs in the region, while the embarrassing string of defeats against the established power Russia, by what had seemed a meagre foe, led to dissatisfaction with the Tsarist regime in Russia, now viewed as inefficient and corrupt. This proved to be a major factor in the Russian Revolution of 1905, which saw the deposition of the government.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the Meiji government of Japan began a cultural and economical campaign to assimilate western ideas, technology and customs into Japanese society. By the late 19th century, Japan had fully emerged from it's international isolation, a policy enacted by the Japanese Sakoku for two centuries to discourage western culture, and was rapidly industrializing it's economy. It sought to compete with Western powers on an international level and to be seen as an equal. Now that it was no longer in isolation, Japan started to face pressure from Western nations on the international front, in particular Russia. To curb 'Western Imperialism', Japanese intellectuals of the late Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage". This principle stated that Japan would be helpless against foreign powers unless it extended a line of advantage beyond it's traditional borders which would help to repel foreign incursions, as well as be a boost to the expanding Japanese economy.
At the same time Russia, a major imperial power on the world stage, harboured territorial ambitions in the East. By the 1890's, Russia extended from Poland in Europe all the way to the Kamchatka peninsula in the East. With the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, connecting the vital port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific with the Russian capital St.Petersburg (Moscow), Russia saw an opportunity to increase and consolidate their influence and presence in the East. This successfully put Russia and Japan at ends, each seeking an imperial presence in the same region.
First Sino-Japanese War
The First Sino-Japanese War was a result of Japan acting upon it's 'line of advantage' strategy in regards to Korea. In order to secure it's own borders, Japan sought to annex the Korean peninsula, or at least have it declare it independent under Japanese influence in order to stop another Imperial power from scooping the vulnerable nation up. Japan's subsequent defeat of China during the First Sino-Japanese war led to the Treaty of Shimonoseki under which China abandoned its own suzerainty over Korea and ceded Taiwan, Pescadores and the Liaodong Peninsula (Port Arthur) to Japan.
When the terms of the treaty became public, Russia expressed concern over Japan's acquisition of the Liaodong Peninsula, seeing it as a threat to Russia's 'sphere of influence' in the region. The Russian Empire, while having extended it's powers in East Asia with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, was in need of a 'warm-water port', a port where the water does not freeze over in winter, in order for it to increase it's presence all year-round in the Pacific Ocean. Port Arthur had been in Russia's sights for some time, and with the unexpected defeat of China by Japan and the transferring of the Liaodong Peninsula, where the port was situated, Japan could undermine it's desperate need for a warm-water port in the East. So came about the 'Triple Intervention', with Russia, France and Germany all demanding that Japan cede the Liaodong Peninsula back to China under threat of war.
While French bankers did have investments in Russia that could prove profitable with Russian success (Railways), overall the France had no territorial gain from the intervention, for it's own sphere of influence lay in Southern China. The French actually even had cordial relations with the Japanese; French military advisors had been sent to train the Imperial Japanese Army and a number of Japanese ships had been built in French shipyards. France was obligated to participate though under Franco-Russo Alliance Treaty of 1892, and did not wish to be diplomatically isolated by one of it's closest allies. Germany had much more ambitious reasons to support Russia. One was to draw Russia's attention away from it's Western border, where Imperial Germany was growing stronger. Germany also had colonial aspirations to territory in China, and hoped support of Russia would in turn give them support in their claims, which were few and desperate for Germany was late in forming itself into one nation, thus missing out at the beginning of the Colonial 'game'.
The Japanese government reluctantly agreed to the intervention once it became apparent that the two nations that were as close to allies as it had, The British Empire and the United States of America, would not intervene militarily or diplomatically, leaving Japan in no position to oppose the three major Western powers. On 5 May 1895, Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi announced the withdrawal of Japanese forces from the Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for an additional indemnity of 30 million kuping taels (450 million yen). The last Japanese troops departed in December, returning the Peninsula to Chinese control.
In December 1897, only two years after the Triple Intervention, a threatening Russian fleet appeared off the coast of the Liaodong Peninsula close to Port Arthur. Russia forced China to lease Port Arthur and the surrounding waters to Russia, much to the fury of Japan, and they quickly began to fortify it. Russia now had it's warm-water port, a strategic gain for it's influence in the region, with little concern for Japanese response. In Japan, the sentiment was the West viewed Japan as an inferior power, thus easy to push around. This feeling was exacerbated by subsequent Russian encroachments upon the Japanese line of advantage. They began to consolidate their power a year later with the construction of a new railyway from the city of Harbin through Mukden, an area soon to become a Russian stronghold, to Port Arthur. Russia also began to make inroads into Korea, much to the alarm of Japan. By 1898 Russia had acquired mining and forestry concessions near the Yalu and Tumen rivers in Korea. It became apparent to the Japanese leadership that if this continued, they would have to strike Russia before it completed it's Trans-Siberian Railway.
Despite all this, Japan and Russia allied themselves together in the 'Eight-Nation Alliance', an alliance that included the British Empire, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary and the United States, to quell the anti-foreigner Boxer Rebellion that was taking place in China, threatening colonial interests in the area. Russian actions in East Asia had contributed to the Rebellion, putting it's proposed Harbin-Port Arthur Railway in limbo, and saw the burning of it's Tiehling and Lioyang railway stations. As part of the foreign intervention, Russia sent troops in Manchuria to protect it's interests there. It assured the other powers, especially Japan who saw it as a direct threat, that it would leave once the Rebellion had been crushed. However, by 1903, the Russians had still not adhered to their promise to pull out, but were instead cementing and fortifying it's defences.
The Japanese statesman and former Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi concluded that Japan was not strong enough to evict Russia militarily, so instead decided to negotiate with the Russians to avoid a conflict. He proposed that Japan would accept Russian presence and control in Manchuria if, in turn, Russia accept Japanese influence in Korea. The offer though was not viewed kindly by the Russian leadership, but Japan made the offer again on 13 January 1904. By February 4 Russia had still not responded to the offer, and two days later called on the Russian Foreign Minister, Count Lamsdorf, to take his leave, thus essentially severing diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia, though the Russian leadership did not see this as a lead up to war.
Meanwhile Japan had found an ally in Great Britain for both nations had similar goals. A possible alliance had been discussed back in 1895 when Britain refused to take part in the Triple Intervention alongside Russia, France and Germany against the Japanese occupation of the Liaodong Peninsula. Ties between the two countries flourished under British support for Japan's modernization and their cooperative efforts to put an end to the Boxer Rebellion in China. Official negotiations began after Russian expansion into China, when both countries sought to curb Russian dominance in the region. There were still reservations about such an alliance though. In Great Britain, there was fear of antagonizing Russia and worry that a treaty would put Great Britain at war with the United States if competing Japanese and American interests clashed. In Japan, some still held out hope that Russia could be held back diplomatically and that compromise was reachable under the renowned former Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi. It thought dealings through friendship, and not war, would satisfy the United States who was worried about Japan as a competing power in the Pacific. The treaty went ahead anyways though in 1902, containing two critical articles concerning the case of war.
- Article 2: Declaration of neutrality if either signatory becomes involved in war through Article 1.
- Article 3: Promise of support if either signatory becomes involved in war with more than one Power.
The treaty laid out Great Britain acknowledgment of Japanese control in Korea, though did not require Britain to participate in it's defence, while Japan was not obligated to protect British interests in India. The treaty effectively put an end to the fear that if Japan and Russia went to war that France or Germany might assist Russia, for fear of going to war with another Western colonial power. While the British saw it as a mild warning to Russia to halt it's advances, the Japanese became emboldened by the treaty and compromise sentiments evaporated, while some even saw it as an open invitation for Japanese imperial expansion.
Declaration of War
On February 8th 1904, two days after Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia, Japan issued a declaration of war against the Russian Empire. However, the first strike of the war was conducted three hours before the declaration, when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Russian Far East Fleet docked at Port Arthur. The Russian Tsar, Nicolas II, was taken completely by surprise by the attack and was amazed Japan dared to attack without a formal declaration of war. He had been assured by his Ministers that Japan would seek compromise and not fight. It would be eight days later before the Russian Empire officially declared war on Japan, for it was not until 1907 that it was made international law to do so before hostilities. Montenegro also joined the war on the side of Russia out of appreciation for Russian assistance in it's struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Montenegro's distance from the field of battle though left most of it's activities to moral support and it's main contribution being Montenegrians in the Russian army.
The war began with the Battle of Port Arthur where the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a pre-emptive strike against the Russian Far East Fleet at Port Arthur. The Port was essential to the Russian Navy as it was the only warm-water port it held on the Pacific, so naturally became a first target for Japan looking to neutralize Russia's navy in the region. The Imperial Japanese Navy under admiral Tōgō Heihachirō struck at 1:28 P.M. on February 9th, 1904, when four Japanese destroyers launched a torpedo attack on the Russian cruiser Pallada and bettleship Retvizan.