Saturday, January 3, 2015

Clash of Monarchies: The Russo-Japanese War

The conflict between the Empires of Russia and Japan can be seen as inevitable. As soon as Russian and Japanese made contact with each other there was hostilities, dating back centuries to a Russian explorer who burned Japanese villages in the northern islands after his request for formal relations was rebuffed. When Russian power began to spread across Siberia to the Far East, Russian and Japanese settlers came into conflict over the possession of Sakhalin island. These early tensions meant that when the Empire of Japan emerged from a long period of being largely isolated and determined, through the Meiji Restoration, to become a major power and not a European colony, Russia was at a disadvantage. From day one, the Japanese were, albeit carefully, willing to deal with powers such as France and Great Britain but were less well disposed toward Russia. For the Russians, geography made Japan a natural enemy. The Russian Empire faced a similar problem in the east as in the west which was being cut off from the oceans; the great highway of nations. The driving, ever-present goal of Russian foreign policy in the Far East was the acquisition of an ice-free port on the Pacific. This proved problematic but Japan was an additional problem as even when Russia obtained such a port, the geographic placement of the Japanese islands meant that so long as Japan was not under Russian control, it could easily shut off access to such a port and render it useless.

Meiji of Japan & Nicholas II of Russia
When Japan began to modernize and industrialize it, of course, needed resources it had never needed before and the growth in the Japanese population that accompanied the rising standard of living also caused concern over food shortages. Both led Japan to take an increased interest in the resources and farmland of Korea. The rising power of Japan also caused tension with the traditional super-power of East Asia; China, at the time the Great Qing Empire. Eventually, the Sino-Japanese War broke out, officially over the independence of Korea (actually whether Korea would be dominated by China or Japan). The path toward a war between Japan and Russia came into view as soon as the war with China was over. Most had assumed the Chinese would easily defeat the Japanese, a people the Chinese had traditionally held in contempt. Yet, these people were looking at things like land and population rather than who had the better grasp of modern weapons and tactics. In the end, Japan won the war quite handily and China was forced to make peace on Japanese terms. It should also be remembered that, by this time, almost the whole of China had been divided up into spheres of influence for the major European imperial powers, roughly these were; France in the south, Britain in the middle and Russia in the north.

It did not escape the notice of Japan that Russian power was expanding in East Asia rapidly. Mongolia was recognized by the other European powers as being within the Russian sphere of influence and later Manchuria was as well. Following the Boxer Rebellion, the Russian Empire took control of Manchuria, making it a part of the Russian Empire in all but name. Russia invested heavily in the region and was intent to see such investments protected. The Trans-Siberian railway was also soon under construction in 1891 which would enable Russia to transfer its vast strength from one side of Asia to the other. In 1896 Russia obtained permission from China to build railroads across Manchuria which would bring Russian power extremely close to the doorstep of Japan. These were concerns for Japan but not the sort of thing that could not be worked through. However, after the Sino-Japanese War, that situation changed. The Japanese victory removed Korea from Chinese control and Japan obtained considerable concessions, such as the island of Formosa, but most significantly for Russia, the Liaotung Peninsula on the Manchurian coast. No sooner was the ink dry on the documents then Russia, Germany and France joined together to declare that Japan had gained too much from China and demanded that some of the spoils of victory be returned.

Pro-Russian French view of the invasion of Korea
Naturally, the Japanese were deeply offended by having the fruits of their victory snatched away from them, including the Liaotung Peninsula but faced with the overwhelming combination of Russia, France and Germany, Japan had no choice but to agree. However, offense turned into outrage and fury when, after handing the Liaotung Peninsula back to China, Russia obtained the lease on the property and began building a massive naval base there at Port Arthur. This was to be the Pacific gateway that Russia had wanted for so long and which would be vital to Russia being a major force in the Far East and free from having Russian trade cut off every winter. After being continuously thwarted in similar efforts at expansion in the west, such as in the Crimean War, the Russian Empire was enjoying a wave of success in the east. Mongolia was within the Russian sphere of influence, Manchuria was practically a part of Russia and the new railroad expansion was bringing Russia to the Korean border. Soon, the struggling Kingdom of Korea, later asserting its independence as the “Great Han Empire” was divided at its highest levels by pro-Russian and pro-Japanese factions. Since winning the war with China, Japan had invested heavily in Korea, Japan owned the railroads in Korea and Japanese settlers were moving into Korea in growing numbers. Russians were starting to filter into the country as well and the powerful Queen/Empress was becoming increasingly friendly to the representatives of the Tsar.

During the diplomatic talks to settle differences and ward off a potential conflict, the Japanese made it clear that they would be willing to accept the Russian domination of Manchuria but that, in return, Russia would have to recognize the Japanese domination of Korea. The realists in Tokyo viewed Manchuria as a lost cause but they could never tolerate Korea becoming a Russian protectorate. However, Japan did not want war. Russia had almost every possible advantage over Japan and the Japanese hoped that they could settle matters through diplomacy with the formula which said, in its simplest form; Russia can have Manchuria if Korea is left to Japan. Russia did not really want war either. They were not even opposed to Japan keeping control of South Korea so long as North Korea remained unoccupied so that Japanese forces could not threaten Russia’s presence in Manchuria. If Czar Nicholas II was simply out to pick a fight with Japan, or any East Asian country, he certainly would have waited until the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed. Yet, what was, perhaps, the most dangerous mistake that the Czar made was in thinking that war was never a realistic possibility. He had no desire for a war and saw no need for one as Russia had been doing fine expanding her influence without fighting. Why should it not continue? It was a perfectly reasonable point of view. The mistake was in discounting the notion that Japan might be the one to initiate a war with Russia. To summarize, the basic attitude of the Czar was, ‘they wouldn’t dare’.

The great Admiral Togo
Betting against the daring of Japan would prove costly. The Japanese leaders knew that their only chance of winning a war with Russia would be to fight aggressively and win it quickly before Russia could transfer her massive military strength to the east. So, while the diplomats tried to find a solution, the Japanese prepared for war. The Russian leadership never thought things were all that serious, again, discounting the idea that Japan would ever attack the largest land empire on earth, and continuously delayed the Japanese diplomats. The Japanese became more offended and frustrated and ever more convinced that war was the only solution all while Russia thought they were in no danger at all. It was not even seen as terribly alarming when the Japanese recalled their diplomats and broke off diplomatic relations with Russia on February 6, 1904, having deemed further talks useless. What happened next was alarming and it sent shock waves all the way across Asia to St Petersburg. On February 8, 1904 the Imperial Japanese fleet under Vice-Admiral Heihachiro Togo launched a surprise attack on the Russians at Port Arthur. An official Japanese declaration of war against Russia followed after hostilities had commenced.

The opening battle of Port Arthur was fairly inconclusive. The Japanese did slightly more damage but were finally forced to withdraw with neither side suffering very grievous losses. However, the pattern of the war was set with Japan being on the offensive and Russia being on the defensive. The Japanese actually had superior numbers on the scene as Russia had only about 80,000 in Manchuria compared to 200,000 Japanese in Korea and neighboring islands. Anxious to get some revenge on Russia themselves, the Chinese offered to join Japan at war but the Japanese refused the offer, not wishing to deal with China wanting a share of the spoils. Japanese troops were landed in Korea, occupied Seoul and were soon marching north while others were landed in Manchuria to begin the siege of Port Arthur. Having not prepared for aggressive war, the Russians were forced to fight delaying action while the bulk of Russian military strength was mobilized for transport to the Far East. At the battle of the Yalu River the Japanese brushed aside a Russian detachment and invaded Manchuria. At Port Arthur, the Russians tried to strike back but suffered damage from Japanese naval mines which unfortunately killed the best Russian naval commander in the region, putting Russia at another serious disadvantage.

Japanese infantry attack
In April of 1904 Japan began the siege of Port Arthur. Initial infantry attacks were repulsed by the stalwart Russian defenders who inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. However, after bringing up heavier, German-made artillery, the Japanese were able to gain the high ground and could bring guns to bear on the Russian fleet, effectively wiping out Russia’s Far East squadron. Tsar Nicholas II was thus forced to divert the Baltic Fleet to the Far East to try to salvage the situation, however, the voyage would be long and Britain kept Japan well informed of its movements. Whatever happened on the ground, the two navies would ultimately determine the outcome of the war at least as far as the goal of Russian access to the Pacific was concerned. The Japanese continued to attack and continued to suffer very high casualties but at Port Arthur the local Russian commander, General Anatoly Stossel, seemed to be losing his nerve. Russian strength was building in Manchuria but at a painfully slow rate and when a relief column was sent from Mukden to Port Arthur it was intercepted by the Japanese at the battle of Liaoyang. At first, Japanese attacks were repelled with heavy losses but after the Japanese seized a key position, the Russian commander, General Alexei Kuropatkin, ordered his men to fall back. The initiative was lost and finally the Russian army retreated back to Mukden.

The Japanese had won the field but the Russian army had escaped and would only grow stronger over time and the Japanese had suffered horrendous casualties in the process. Still, Port Arthur was then completely isolated and on January 2, 1905 General Stossel surrendered, much to the surprise of the Japanese. In Russia there was shock and fury, especially after subsequent investigations showed that the Russian troops had been holding their lines and that sufficient provisions were available to sustain the garrison for much longer. It was a heavy blow to Russian morale and allowed Japan to focus on pushing north into Manchuria for further attacks before Russian reinforcements could arrive. To the surprise of some, Russian troops taken prisoner by the Japanese were treated with great humanity, even generosity which stood in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to POW’s in the First Sino-Japanese War and later during World War II. Meanwhile, on the home front, both countries faced serious problems because of the on-going war.

Russian propaganda picture
In Japan, the government had promoted the war as one of dire necessity rather than choice, assured the public of victory and immense benefits when it was over. The public was then shocked to see the long casualty lists for what was supposed to have been an easy success against a beastly, barbarian foe. The Japanese economy was also stretched to the breaking point. In fact, carrying on the fight would not have been possible without considerable private financial assistance from the United States. American sympathy was overwhelmingly on the side of Japan but it was one wealthy American in particular who helped Japan in a major way and that was the Jewish-American businessman Jacob Schiff, a banker, investor and philanthropist who had a particular grudge against Russia for the treatment of the Jews there. He put the entire financial resources of his firm, “Kuhn, Loeb & Co.” at the disposal of Japan to give Tokyo the money necessary to fight the war. Of course, this was known only to military and civil officials in Japan and not the general public, though Schiff was given the Order of the Rising Sun from the hand of the Meiji Emperor himself.

In Russia, where most ordinary people never understood the necessity of their foreign policy goals, anti-war agitation and social unrest was increasing. The Japanese did their best to encourage this, funding a variety of leftist, revolutionary groups in Russia and pro-independence dissidents in Poland by way of agents operating in Sweden. Even the future Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin received some Japanese subsidy. With the monarchy itself coming under greater threat, more officials were advising the Czar to make peace but Nicholas II was infuriated by Japanese behavior and determined to fight on until final victory was won. Aiding revolutionary elements would have been unthinkable to the high-minded Czar but one thing he could do was to have prayers read out in all the Russian Orthodox Churches calling down the wrath of God on the Japanese. When, eighteen years after the war, Japan was hit by a number of immense natural disasters, such as the Great Kantou earthquake, Russians began to remark that Heaven must be eighteen years away from earth.

Russian troops at the front
What would be the climactic land engagement of the war came on February 20, 1905 and which would last until March 10; the immense, bloody battle of Mukden. The Russians had a somewhat larger force but they had the disadvantage of being led by General Kuropatkin, an inept officer and future traitor. The Japanese, on the other hand, were led by Field Marshal Oyama Iwao, one of the best military commanders Japan would ever produce. The fight was long, fierce and bloody, a precursor to the sort of tactics seen later in World War I. The Russians lost nearly 90,000 men and the Japanese over 75,000. However, it was Kuropatkin who blinked first and who failed to properly coordinate his movements and Oyama was quick to exploit the opportunity. The Russian army was broken and retreated north while the Japanese marched triumphantly into Mukden. And yet, the Russians had not been destroyed and more troops were on the way while the Japanese were so exhausted and depleted by their costly attacks that they could not pursue and finish off their retreating enemies. In fact, the situation for Japan had become so serious that Tokyo was putting out ‘peace feelers’ while the battle was still underway. The Czar was reluctant to accept such an outcome but the situation changed when the Baltic fleet finally arrived in East Asian waters. Thanks to Great Britain, Japan was well informed of Russia’s naval movements and Admiral Togo was waiting in ambush in the waters between Korea and Japan. The resulting battle of Tsushima, on May 27-28, was a total disaster for the Russians. The Baltic fleet was wiped out and Japanese naval dominance in the region was secured. Any hope of unfettered Russian access to the Pacific died at Tsushima Straits. When Japanese troops landed on Sakhalin afterwards, Czar Nicholas II finally agreed to talk peace, accepting American President Teddy Roosevelt as mediator even though he had been pretty openly sympathetic to Japan.

The resulting peace left neither side happy but Japan more so than Russia. Japan gained the Russian lease on Port Arthur, the southern half of Sakhalin Island and saw all Russian forces evacuated from Manchuria as well as an acknowledgement of Japanese domination over Korea. However, none of it seemed sufficient given how costly the war had been and Czar Nicholas II refused to pay an indemnity to Japan and when President Roosevelt backed Russia, Japan had to drop the issue. For the Czar, as with most things, it was a matter of principle. Such payments were usually taken as an admission of guilt for starting a war and given that it was the Japanese who had struck first, the Czar saw this as totally unacceptable. He was also reluctant to give in to all Japanese demands considering that Russia still had considerable forces in the field and was quite capable of continuing the war. The Japanese tended to blame the American president for not getting all they wanted but the fact is that the war was not the total victory it had been portrayed as with the Japanese armies severely depleted and the economy stretched to the breaking point. The Treaty of Portsmouth ended the war officially on September 5, 1905.

American pro-Japanese view of the fall of Port Arthur
For Russia, the war was not a total disaster but was a serious humiliation that left a lasting legacy of bitterness. The events of “Bloody Sunday” had shaken the monarchy, tarnished the image of the Tsar and the increased revolutionary agitation left the Russian Empire in a delicate position. Not long after, the Russian monarchy was forced to, officially at least, abandon autocracy and become a nominal constitutional monarchy with the October Manifesto. It also, though this can be exaggerated, caused some in the Russian leadership to take a more strident tone and be more anxious to assert Russian strength on the world stage, preparing the way for the mobilization on behalf of Serbia against Austria-Hungary that turned a Balkan crisis into the First World War. The humiliation was never forgotten and Russia, under Soviet leadership, would enact a considerable degree of retribution against Japan in the final days of World War II. After defeating the Japanese in a border dispute in Mongolia, Russia would break its neutrality pact with Japan after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and send Russian forces sweeping into Manchuria, driving the Japanese from that area as well as northern Korea, retaking all of Sakhalin and seizing the Kurile Islands as well. Plans to invade Hokkaido, partition Japan and set up a communist republic there were avoided only by virtue of the staunch opposition of General Douglas MacArthur.

The Empire of Japan emerged from the conflict as a world power, recognized as such by the other great powers of the world. Japanese mastery of northeast Asia was undisputed and no one voiced any serious opposition when Japan annexed Korea in 1910. However, the Japanese were not happy with the fruits of their victory, mostly because of how the government had made promises to the public that were unrealistic and kept them in the dark as to the true situation at the end of the war. Knowing nothing of how badly Japan needed the war to end, the public blamed America (which had been overwhelmingly pro-Japanese) for the fact that they had not received everything they wanted from the Russians. Anti-American riots broke out across Japan and an offended United States then retaliated by enacting laws restricting Japanese immigration to the United States (oddly enough, those who voiced the most anti-American attitudes seemed most offended at not being able to immigrate to America). The USA would not be so well-disposed toward Japan again until after World War II. Likewise, the way the war was triumphed in Japan and by others in East Asia in racial terms made the elite club of colonial powers rather nervous about their newest member. Successive victories over China and Russia also, probably, produced a degree of over-confidence in the Japanese military that was to have disastrous consequences in the years to come.

1 comment:

  1. The Jews, well most of them, not the pseudo-Jews who betrayed their Tradition and Religion like the Reformed Jew Schiff who cared of himself and his own international gains or the Narodnaya Volya members, didn't care about the massacares and used their horrible ideology war to justify the Russian "aggression" against Japan even in the cause of complete death of Judaism in Russia, were very devout to the Tsar (although the masscares) and god fearing. I actually found a very monarchist midrash of the jewish community in Russia during Alexander III (1882, may laws): (I think many reactionary antisemities (i know there are few) will be suprised to hear something that the media doesn't broadcast. This orthodox Jews were anti-revolutionaries as most Europe was and reactionary till today (as I)., not everyone supported the revolution in Russia before bolsheviks they knew what they have in their own community (a great proof)):



    "the King's Garden"

    "When the world is burning at all (Jewish World in Russia these times) we learn that nothing is stronger than god's words and surely after things go quiet, the fight is nearby as man will kill man and there's is no heavy war than this war of blood. And this is what they (the revolutionaries) want, blood. They say and will, if they won't get what they want - all the world will go down to the ashes. As they say my father, the power of war to the infidels that if they win, people will go under their faith. And what is their faith? They believe nothing, nothing at all."
    (Answer from father) : "No my son, you are wrong, this falsitive sect that in their own wisdom deny god and the king (tsar) they have strong religion. And what is their religion? To eliminate god's faith from this world. This is a very vast religion to have for their greatest command to remove god from the world, and they send themself to die for it, this evil inclination that burns among them as cooked oven. All those devious tricks are to decline the humans from the two worlds" (spiritual and material)

    "And in the eternal world, their heart won't pardon, their spirit won't rest till the last drop of blood in this war. Solomon the king was saying: "This is the man who abandon himself till his death only for his arbitrariness of his evil heart who says that if I won't have - you won't have"

    The most monarchist and important words:

    "We will trust god, lord of armies, that will give strength and forces to our great emperor, exalted among men, Alexander III, that will remove their evil from this world


    "Now I will show the great wisdom of our ancestors for things shiner than gold and silver and only by them the wisdom shal arise"
    "As I saw this thing is true (god) and as Ecclesiastes said that I have a good heart like him and now the exploration showed false, for every generation exploring something new and we learn your good ways as the first generations found good in you and your ways. And Now I will learn and get smarter in the rest of my life"


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