Russo-Japanese War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Russo-Japanese War resulted from the clashing imperial ambitions of Russia and Japan.

Summary of Event

By the end of the nineteenth century, the imperial ambitions of Russia and Japan focused on the same regions of the Far East: Korea, Manchuria, and the northeastern part of China. Japan was a relative newcomer as an imperialistic power, only emerging from its self-imposed isolation in the middle of the century. Although Japan modernized, its leaders still felt they lacked respect from the Western powers, and they were concerned with their nation’s security. For Japanese leaders, Korea became a key to the national expansion. To expand its influence over that neighbor, Japan engaged Korea’s more powerful neighbor, China, in war from 1894 to 1895. Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] Japan;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War] Russia;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War] [kw]Russo-Japanese War (Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905)[Russo Japanese War (Feb. 9, 1904 Sept. 5, 1905)] [kw]Japanese War, Russo- (Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905) [kw]War, Russo-Japanese (Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905)[War, Russo Japanese (Feb. 9, 1904 Sept. 5, 1905)] Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] Japan;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War] Russia;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War] [g]East Asia;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [g]Japan;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [g]Korea;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [g]Manchuria;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [g]Russia;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 9, 1904-Sept. 5, 1905: Russo-Japanese War[01000] Alexieff, Evgeny Ivanovich Kuroki, Tamemoto Kuropatkin, Aleksei Nicholas II [p]Nicholas II[Nicholas 02];Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese] Roosevelt, Theodore [p]Roosevelt, Theodore;diplomacy Rozhdestvensky, Zinovy Petrovich T{omacr}g{omacr}, Heihachir{omacr}

Among the concessions Japan wrested from China with its victory was control over the Chinese area of Manchuria contiguous to Korea. This acquisition alarmed the Western imperialists; France, Russia, and Germany—in what is known as the Triple Intervention Triple Intervention —jointly protested this expansion, forcing Japan to relinquish territorial claims outside Korea. China’s defeat in the war led the Western imperialists, including Russia, to seek additional concessions of their own from China. As the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad Trans-Siberian Railroad[Transsiberian Railroad] progressed, Russia wrested from China the right to build a railroad across northern Manchuria and also gained possession of two ports on the Liaotung Peninsula in southern Manchuria—Dairen (Ta-lien) and Port Arthur. Thus Russia gained without conflict much of what the Triple Intervention had denied to the victorious Japanese.

One outcome of China’s humiliation was the growth of antiforeign feeling, marked by the appearance of the secret society popularly called the Boxers. Their attacks on foreigners in the Boxer Rebellion Boxer Rebellion (1900) resulted in a multinational military intervention in northern China. During the course of this uprising, Russian troops had fanned out over Manchuria. Only strong protests by other nations forced a phased, but often delayed, withdrawal of the Russian troops. In 1902, isolated Japan signed a treaty with Great Britain. Under its terms, each participant would remain a friendly neutral if the other became engaged in a war. If additional nations involved themselves in the conflict, the treaty required armed intervention by the other signatory. With this treaty, Japan would not have to face the threat of a new Triple Intervention alone.

In 1898, a Russian company secured from Korea the right to harvest timber along the Yalu River; the Russian royal family became financially involved in its operations, which a small Russian military force protected. These expansionist moves on the part of Russia alarmed Japan. Tensions reached such a peak that a series of negotiations between the two countries began in 1903. The negotiations were hampered by the activities of Admiral Evgeny Ivanovich Alexieff, Russia’s Far Eastern viceroy, who, because of racial prejudice, consistently underestimated the pride and strength of the Japanese.

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When no progress was made after several months, the Japanese recalled their ambassador on February 6, 1904. Two days later, Admiral Heihachirō Togō attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in Manchuria. Suffering some damage, the Russian fleet remained in or close to that port until late in the war. At the same time Togō struck at Port Arthur, Japanese troops landed in Korea and quickly marched to the Yalu River against token Russian opposition. With the neutralization of the Russian Far Eastern fleet, Japan moved troops into Manchuria both to invest Port Arthur and to defeat the main Russian forces near Liaoyang under General Aleksei Kuropatkin. Because of the Japanese willingness to take casualties in attack and the weakness of the Russians in numbers and resolve, Japan won an unbroken series of victories. The major battles included those fought at Liaoyang and Mukden under General Tamemoto Kuroki, and the successful siege of Port Arthur. Sent to change the balance of naval power in Asia, the Russian Baltic fleet, under Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhdestvensky, was totally destroyed by Admiral Togō in the Battle of Tsushima, Tsushima, Battle of (1905) May 27-29, 1905.

The unbroken series of Russian defeats contributed to growing unrest at home and led Czar Nicholas II to seek an end to the war. Although victorious at sea and on land, Japan was militarily and economically exhausted by the struggle. When President Theodore Roosevelt offered to help bring the war to an end, negotiators of the two belligerents met at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where a peace treaty was signed on September 5, 1905. Under its terms, Japan took possession of the Russian concessions in southern Manchuria and the railroad leading north to Mukden, gained official recognition of their predominance over Korea, and were given the southern half of Sakhalin Island. The lack of a sizable indemnity led to some rioting in Japan.

Significance

The Russo-Japanese War has been overshadowed by World War I, which followed closely on its heels. In actuality, the struggle of 1904-1905 may have been one of the most significant conflicts of the twentieth century. With the exception of the defeat of the Italian army in Ethiopia at the battle of Adowa in 1896, the Russo-Japanese War marked the first time in modern history that a major European power was decisively and completely defeated by a non-European nation. This event raised the hopes of nationalists in Asia and Africa that the days of European colonialism were numbered.

Defeat for Russia also played a major role in bringing on an incomplete reformist revolution in that nation in 1905. That revolution so eroded feelings for the czar that it was a factor leading to the revolutions of 1917 and the emergence of the Bolshevik state.

In addition, Japan’s failure to achieve all of its aims in the peace treaty fed a growing militarism among Japanese and the conviction that their legitimate goals were thwarted by the Americans. Japanese military planners became convinced that they could defeat a stronger power by destroying that power’s main naval forces at the very outbreak of war. Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] Japan;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War] Russia;Russo-Japanese War[Russojapanese War]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Borton, Hugh. Japan’s Modern Century. New York: Ronald Press, 1955. Includes a brief account of the war from the Japanese perspective.
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    xlink:type="simple">British General Staff. The Russo-Japanese War. 2 vols. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1906-1908. History and analysis of the war by British observers, many of whom were sent to the scene because of Great Britain’s status as an unofficial ally of Japan.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hare, James H., ed. A Photographic Record of the Russo-Japanese War. New York: Collier & Son, 1905. Probably the best of the many contemporary accounts of the war in presenting a photographic account of the conflict.
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    xlink:type="simple">Jukes, Geoffrey. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. Concise history of the war includes background regarding its beginnings and discussion of its eventual consequences. Features chronology and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Malozemoff, Andrew. Russian Far Eastern Policy, 1881-1904: With Special Emphasis on the Causes of the Russo-Japanese War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958. Attempts a revision of traditional interpretations of the war and its results, but displays a definite anti-Japanese bias.
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    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Christopher. The Russo-Japanese War. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1967. Recounts the events of the time in almost reportorial style. Unlike many earlier accounts, places the war in its historical setting, giving proper emphasis to its Asian causes rather than treating it as a minor episode of intrigue in Russian internal politics. A good starting place for interested readers.
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    xlink:type="simple">Steinberg, John W., et al., eds. The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. Collection of essays explores the military, diplomatic, social, economic, and political contexts in which the war occurred. Draws on previously unavailable Russian sources as well as Japanese records. Includes illustrations, maps, and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">White, John A. The Diplomacy of the Russo-Japanese War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964. Careful scholarly account of the war places the blame for the conflict on the Far Eastern aims of the two protagonists, each of which was threatened by the actions and desires of the other.

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