Clockwise from top: Russian cruiser Pallada under fire at Port Arthur, Russian cavalry at Mukden, Russian cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz at Chemulpo Bay, Japanese dead at Port Arthur, Japanese infantry crossing the Yalu River
|Russian Empire||Empire of Japan|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Tsar Nicholas II
Stepan Makarov †
| Emperor Meiji
|Casualties and losses|
|34,000 – 52,623 killed or died of wounds
9,300 – 18,830 died of disease
50,688 deadweight loss
|47,152 – 47,400 killed
11,424 – 11,500 died of wounds
21,802 – 27,200 died of disease
The Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905) was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were Southern Manchuria, specifically the area around the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden; and the seas around Korea, Japan, and the Yellow Sea.
Russia sought a warm water port on the Pacific Ocean, for their navy as well as for maritime trade. Vladivostok was only operational during the summer season, but Port Arthur would be operational all year. From the end of the First Sino-Japanese War and 1903, negotiations between Russia and Japan had proved impractical. Russia had demonstrated an expansionist policy in Manchuria dating back to the reign of Ivan of the Terrible in the 16th century. Japan offered to recognize Russian dominance in Manchuria in exchange for recognition of Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Russia refused this, and demanded that Korea north of the 39th parallel be a neutral buffer zone between Russia and Japan. The Japanese government perceived a Russian threat to its strategic interests and chose to go to war. After the negotiations had broken down in 1904, the Japanese Navy opened hostilities by attacking the Russian eastern fleet at Port Arthur, a naval base in the Liaotung province leased to Russia by China.
The resulting campaigns, in which the Japanese military attained complete victory over the Russian forces arrayed against them, were unexpected by world observers. Over time, the consequences of these battles would transform the balance of power in East Asia, resulting in a reassessment of Japan's recent entry onto the world stage. Scholars today debate the historical significance of the Russo-Japanese War. The Russo-Japanese has been referred to by some scholars of history as just a regional conflict, while others associate it as the precursor for the type of warfare that took place during World War II.
Russia would suffer numerous defeats at the hands of Japan and would remain engaged in the war mainly due in part to the will of the Tsar, Nicholas II. After faring poorly early into the war, Nicholas II, convinced that Russia would ultimately obtain victory in the war, chose to remain engaged in the war; at first, to await the outcomes of certain naval battles, and later on, upon realizing imminent defeat, it has been debated, to preserve the dignity of Russia by averting a "humiliating peace". The Russo-Japanese War would be concluded with the Treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by U.S President Theodore Roosevelt at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Seavey's Island, Kittery, Maine, while the delegates stayed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Meiji government embarked on an endeavor to assimilate Western ideas, technological advances and customs. By the late 19th century, Japan had emerged from isolation and transformed itself into a modernized industrial state in less than half a century. The Japanese wanted to preserve their sovereignty and be recognized as an equal with the Western powers.
In 1853, Japan first encountered Western influence through Commodore Perry's fleet in Edo Bay. This first encounter with a Western power served to portray the West as having a confrontational and imperialist political agenda, which Japan would view with respect to the Western powers through World War II. Japan, from this point, sought to maintain their autonomy and independence, resisting all acts of imperialism and colonialism by Western nations. The Mejii restoration in 1868 would serve as the first Japanese response to the challenges of the modern world.
Russia, a major imperial power, had ambitions in the East. By the 1890s it had extended its realm across Central Asia to Afghanistan, absorbing local states in the process. The Russian Empire stretched from Poland in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the East. With its construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway to the port of Vladivostok, Russia hoped to further consolidate its influence and presence in the region. This was precisely what Japan feared, as it regarded Korea (and to a lesser extent Manchuria) as a protective buffer.
Prior to its engagement in World War I, the Empire of Japan fought in two significant wars after its establishment following the Meiji Restoration. The first was the First Sino-Japanese War, fought in 1894 and 1895. The war revolved around the issue of control and influence over Korea under the rule of the Joseon Dynasty. A peasant rebellion led to a request by the Korean government for the Qing Dynasty to send in troops to stabilize the country. The Empire of Japan responded by sending their own force to Korea and installing a puppet government in Seoul. China objected and war ensued. It was a brief affair, with Japanese ground troops routing Chinese forces on the Liaodong Peninsula and nearly destroying the Chinese navy in the Battle of the Yalu River. The Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed between Japan and China, which ceded the Liaodong Peninsula and the island of Taiwan to Japan. After the peace treaty, Russia, Germany, and France forced Japan to withdraw from Liaodong Peninsula. Soon after, Russia occupied the Liaodong Peninsula, built Port Arthur fortress, and based the Russian Pacific Fleet in the port. Germany occupied Jiaozhou Bay, built Tsingtao fortress, and based the German East Asia Squadron in this port.
In December 1897 a Russian fleet appeared off Port Arthur. After three months, in 1898, China and Russia negotiated a convention by which China leased (to Russia) Port Arthur, Talienwan and the surrounding waters. The two parties further agreed that the convention could be extended by mutual agreement. The Russians clearly expected such extension, for they lost no time in occupying the territory and in fortifying Port Arthur, their sole warm-water port on the Pacific coast and of great strategic value. A year later, to consolidate their position, the Russians began to build a new railway from Harbin through Mukden to Port Arthur. The development of the railway became a contributory factor to the Boxer Rebellion when Boxer forces burned the railway stations.
The Russians also began to make inroads into Korea. By 1898 they had acquired mining and forestry concessions near the Yalu and Tumen rivers, causing the Japanese much anxiety. Japan decided to attack before the Russians completed the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The Russians and the Japanese were both part of the eight member international force sent in 1900 to quell the Boxer Rebellion and relieve the international legations under siege in the Chinese capital. As with other member nations, the Russians sent troops into Beijing. Russia had already sent 177,000 soldiers to Manchuria, nominally to protect its railways under construction. The troops of the Qing empire and the participants of the Boxer Rebellion could do nothing against this massive army. As a result, the Qing troops were ejected from Manchuria and the Russian troops settled in. Russia assured the other powers that it would vacate the area after the crisis. However, by 1903, the Russians had not yet established any timetable for withdrawal and had actually strengthened their position in Manchuria.
The Japanese statesman Itō Hirobumi started to negotiate with the Russians. He believed that Japan was too weak to evict Russia militarily, so he proposed giving Russia control over Manchuria in exchange for Japanese control of northern Korea. Meanwhile, Japan and Britain had signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902, the British seeking to restrict naval competition by keeping the Russian Pacific seaports of Vladivostok and Port Arthur from their full use. The alliance with the British meant, in part, that if any nation allied itself with Russia during any war against Japan, then Britain would enter the war on Japan's side. Russia could no longer count on receiving help from either Germany or France without there being a danger of British involvement in the war. With such an alliance, Japan felt free to commence hostilities, if necessary.
On 28 July 1903, the Japanese Minister in St. Petersburg was instructed to present his country's view opposing Russia's consolidation plans in Manchuria. On 12 August, the Japanese minister handed on the following document (quoted verbatim) to serve as the basis for further negotiations:
Negotiations followed and, on 13 January 1904, Japan proposed a formula by which Manchuria would be outside the Japanese sphere of influence and, reciprocally, Korea outside Russia's. By 4 February 1904, no formal reply had been received and on 6 February Kurino Shinichiro, the Japanese Minister, called on the Russian Foreign Minister, Count Lambsdorff, to take his leave. Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia on 6 February 1904.
Potential diplomatic resolution of territorial concerns between Japan and Russia have failed, argued by historians, as a direct result of the actions of Tsar Nicholas II. One crucial error of Nicholas was his mismanagement of government. Although certain scholars contend the situation arose from the determination of Tsar Nicholas II to use the war against Japan to spark a revival in Russian patriotism, there is no historical evidence to support this claim. His advisors did not support the war, foreseeing problems in transporting troops and supplies from European Russia to the East. Convinced that his rule was divinely ordained and that he held responsibility to God, Nicholas II held the ideals of preserving the autocracy and defending the dignity, honor, and worth of Russia. This attitude by the Tsar led to repeated delays in negotiations with the Japanese government. The Japanese understanding of this can be seen from a telegram dated 1 December 1903 from Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Komura to the Minister to Russia, in which he stated:
"...the Japanese Government have at all times during the progress of the negotiations made it a special point to give prompt answers to all propositions of the Russian Government. The negotiations have now been pending for no less than four months, and they have not yet reached a stage where the final issue can with certainty be predicted. In these circumstances the Japanese government cannot but regard with grave concern the situation for which the delays in negotiations are largely responsible".
Errors by Nicholas II in managing the Russian government would also lead to his misinterpretation of what type of situation in which Russia was to become involved in with Japan. An assertion by scholars exists suggesting that Tsar Nicholas II dragged Japan into war intentionally, in hopes of reviving Russian nationalism. This notion is disputed by a comment made by Nicholas to Kaiser William of Germany, saying there would be no war because he 'did not wish it.' This does not reject the claim that Russia played an aggressive role in the East, which it did, rather that Russia unwisely calculated that Japan would not go to war against its far larger and seemingly superior navy and army. Evidence of Russians' false sense of security and superiority to Japan is seen by their reference to the latter as a big mistake.
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In 1904, American banker Jacob Schiff extended a critical series of loans to the Empire of Japan in the amount of $200 million. He was willing to extend this loan due, in part, to his belief that gold is not as important as national effort and desire, in helping win a war, and due to the apparent underdog status of Japan at the time; no European nation had yet been defeated by a non-European nation in a modern, full-scale war. It is quite likely Schiff also saw this loan as a means of avenging, on behalf of the Jewish people, the anti-Semitic actions of the Tsarist regime, specifically the then-recent pogroms in Kishinev.
Japan issued a declaration of war on 8 February 1904. However, three hours before Japan's declaration of war was received by the Russian Government, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the Russian Far East Fleet at Port Arthur. Tsar Nicholas II was stunned by news of the attack. He could not believe that Japan would commit an act of war without a formal declaration, and had been assured by his ministers that the Japanese would not fight. When the attack came, according to Cecil Spring Rice, First Secretary at the British Embassy, it left the Tsar "almost incredulous." Russia declared war on Japan eight days later. Japan, in response, made reference to the Russian attack on Sweden in 1809 without declaration of war, and the requirement to declare war before commencing hostilities was not made international law until the Second Hague Peace Conference was held in October 1907.
The Qing empire favored the Japanese position and even offered military aid, but Japan declined it. However, Yuan Shikai sent envoys to Japanese generals several times to deliver foodstuffs and alcoholic drinks. Native Manchurians joined the war on both sides as hired troops.
Port Arthur, on the Liaodong Peninsula in the south of Manchuria, had been fortified into a major naval base by the Russian Imperial Army. Since it needed to control the sea in order to fight a war on the Asian mainland, Japan's first military objective was to neutralize the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.
On the night of 8 February 1904, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Togo Heihachiro opened the war with a surprise torpedo boat destroyer attack on the Russian ships at Port Arthur. The attack badly damaged the Tsesarevich and Retvizan, the heaviest battleships in Russia's far Eastern theater, and the 6,600 ton cruiser Pallada. These attacks developed into the Battle of Port Arthur the next morning. A series of indecisive naval engagements followed, in which Admiral Togo was unable to attack the Russian fleet successfully as it was protected by the shore batteries of the harbor, and the Russians were reluctant to leave the harbor for the open seas, especially after the death of Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov on 13 April 1904.
These engagements provided cover for a Japanese landing near Incheon in Korea. From Incheon the Japanese occupied Seoul and then the rest of Korea. By the end of April, the Japanese Imperial Army under Kuroki Itei was ready to cross the Yalu river into Russian-occupied Manchuria.
In contrast to the Japanese strategy of rapidly gaining ground to control Manchuria, Russian strategy focused on fighting delaying actions to gain time for reinforcements to arrive via the long Trans-Siberian railway, which was incomplete near Irkutsk at the time. On 1 May 1904, the Battle of Yalu River became the first major land battle of the war; Japanese troops stormed a Russian position after crossing the river. The defeat of the Russian Eastern Detachment removed the perception that the Japanese would be an easy enemy, that the war would be short, and that Russia would be the overwhelming victor. Japanese troops proceeded to land at several points on the Manchurian coast, and in a series of engagements drove the Russians back towards Port Arthur. The subsequent battles, including the Battle of Nanshan on 25 May 1904, were marked by heavy Japanese losses largely from attacking entrenched Russian positions.
The Japanese attempted to deny the Russians use of Port Arthur. During the night of 13–14 February, the Japanese attempted to block the entrance to Port Arthur by sinking several cement-filled steamers in the deep water channel to the port, but they sank too deep to be effective. A similar attempt to block the harbor entrance during the night of 3–4 May also failed. In March, the charismatic Vice Admiral Makarov had taken command of the First Russian Pacific Squadron with the intention of breaking out of the Port Arthur blockade.
On 12 April 1904, two Russian pre-dreadnought battleships, the flagship Petropavlovsk and the Pobeda, slipped out of port but struck Japanese mines off Port Arthur. The Petropavlovsk sank almost immediately, while the Pobeda had to be towed back to port for extensive repairs. Admiral Makarov, the single most effective Russian naval strategist of the war, perished on the battleship Petropavlovsk.
On 15 April 1904, the Russian government made overtures threatening to seize the British war correspondents who were taking the ship Haimun into warzones to report for the London-based Times newspaper, citing concerns about the possibility of the British giving away Russian positions to the Japanese fleet.
The Russians learned quickly, and soon employed, the Japanese tactic of offensive minelaying. On 15 May 1904, two Japanese battleships, the Yashima and the Hatsuse, were lured into a recently laid Russian minefield off Port Arthur, each striking at least two mines. The Hatsuse sank within minutes, taking 450 sailors with her, while the Yashima sank while under tow towards Korea for repairs. On 23 June 1904, a breakout attempt by the Russian squadron, now under the command of Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, failed. By the end of the month, Japanese artillery was firing shells into the harbor.
Even before the war, British and Japanese intelligence had co-operated against Russia. Indian Army stations in Malaya and China often intercepted and read wireless and telegraph cable traffic relating to the war, which was shared with the Japanese. In their turn, the Japanese shared information about Russia with the British with one British official writing of the "perfect quality" of Japanese intelligence. In particular, British and Japanese intelligence gathered much evidence that Germany was supporting Russia in the war as part of a bid to disturb the balance of power in Europe, which led to British officials increasingly perceiving that country as a threat to the international order.
The siege of Port Arthur commenced in April 1904. Japanese troops tried numerous frontal assaults on the fortified hilltops overlooking the harbor, which were defeated with Japanese casualties in the thousands. Eventually, though, with the aid of several batteries of 11-inch (280 mm) Krupp howitzers, the Japanese were able to capture the key hilltop bastion in December 1904. From this vantage point, the long-range artillery was able to shell the Russian fleet, which was unable to retaliate effectively against the land-based artillery and was unable or unwilling to sally out against the blockading fleet. Four Russian battleships and two cruisers were sunk in succession, with the fifth and last battleship being forced to scuttle a few weeks later. Thus, all capital ships of the Russian fleet in the Pacific were sunk. This is probably the only example in military history when such a scale of devastation was achieved by land-based artillery against major warships.
Meanwhile, attempts to relieve the besieged city by land also failed, and, after the Battle of Liaoyang in late August, the northern Russian force that might have been able to relieve Port Arthur retreated to Mukden (Shenyang). Major General Anatoly Stessel, commander of the Port Arthur garrison, believed that the purpose of defending the city was lost after the fleet had been destroyed. In general the Russian defenders were suffering disproportionate casualties each time the Japanese attacked. In particular, several large underground mines were exploded in late December, resulting in the costly capture of a few more pieces of the defensive line. Stessel therefore decided to surrender to the surprised Japanese generals on 2 January 1905. He made his decision without consulting neither the other military staff present, nor the Tsar and military command, who all disagreed with the decision. Stessel was convicted by a court-martial in 1908 and sentenced to death on account of an incompetent defense and for disobeying orders. He was later pardoned.
With the death of Admiral Stepan Makarov during the siege of Port Arthur in April 1904, Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft was appointed command of the battle fleet and was ordered to make a sortie from Port Arthur and deploy his force to Vladivostok. Flying his flag in the French-built pre-dreadnought Tsesarevich, Vitgeft proceeded to lead his 6 battleships, 4 cruisers, and 14 torpedo boat destroyers into the Yellow Sea in the early morning of 10 August 1904. Waiting for him was Admiral Togo and his fleet of 4 battleships, 10 cruisers, and 18 torpedo boat destroyers.
At approximately 1215 hours the battleship fleets obtained visual contact with each other, and at 1300 hours with Togo crossing Vitgeft's "T", they commenced main battery fire at a range of about 8 miles, the longest ever conducted up to that time. For about thirty minutes the battleships pounded one another until they had closed to less than 4 miles and began to bring their secondary batteries into play. At 1830 hours a hit from one of Togo's battleships struck Vitgeft's flagship's bridge, killing him instantly.
With the Tsesarevich's helm jammed and their Admiral killed in action, she turned from her battle line, causing confusion among her fleet. However, Togo was determined to sink the Russian flagship and continued pounding her, being saved only by the gallant charge of the American-built Russian battleship Retvizan, whose captain successfully drew away Togo's heavy fire from the Russian flagship. Knowing of the impending battle with the battleship reinforcements arriving from Russia (the Baltic Fleet), Togo chose not to risk his battleships by pursuing his enemy as they turned about and headed back into Port Arthur, thus ending naval history's longest-range gunnery duel up to that time and the first modern clash of steel battleship fleets on the high seas.
Meanwhile, the Russians were preparing to reinforce their Far East Fleet by sending the Baltic Fleet, under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky. After a false start caused by engine problems and other mishaps, the squadron finally departed on 15 October 1904 and sailed half way around the world from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific via the Cape of Good Hope in the course of a seven-month odyssey that was to attract worldwide attention. The fleet was forced to take this longer route after the Dogger Bank incident on 21 October 1904 where the Russian fleet fired on British fishing boats that they mistook for enemy torpedo boats. This caused the British to deny them access to the Suez Canal, thus forcing them around Africa, and nearly sparking a war with Great Britain (an ally of Japan, but neutral, unless provoked by a non-combatant nation). After a stopover of several weeks at the minor port of Nossi-Bé, Madagascar that had been reluctantly allowed by neutral France in order not to jeopardize its relations with its Russian ally, the fleet proceeded to Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina passing on its way through the Singapore Strait between 7 and 10 April 1905. The fleet finally reached the Sea of Japan in May 1905. The logistics of such an undertaking in the age of coal power was astounding. The squadron required approximately 500,000 tons of coal to complete the journey, yet by international law, it was not allowed to coal at neutral ports, forcing the Russian authorities to acquire a large fleet of colliers to supply the fleet at sea. The weight of the ships' stores needed for such a long journey was to be another major problem.
With the fall of Port Arthur, the Japanese 3rd Army was now able to continue northward and reinforce positions south of Russian-held Mukden. With the onset of the severe Manchurian winter, there had been no major land engagements since the Battle of Shaho the previous year. The two sides camped opposite each other along 60 to 70 miles (110 km) of front lines, south of Mukden.
The Russian Second Army under General Oskar Gripenberg, between 25 and 29 January, attacked the Japanese left flank near the town of Sandepu, almost breaking through. This caught the Japanese by surprise. However, without support from other Russian units the attack stalled, Gripenberg was ordered to halt by Kuropatkin and the battle was inconclusive. The Japanese knew that they needed to destroy the Russian army in Manchuria before Russian reinforcements arrived via the Trans-Siberian railroad.
The Battle of Mukden commenced on 20 February 1905. In the following days Japanese forces proceeded to assault the right and left flanks of Russian forces surrounding Mukden, along a 50-mile (80 km) front. Approximately half a million men were involved in the fighting. Both sides were well entrenched and were backed by hundreds of artillery pieces. After days of harsh fighting, added pressure from the flanks forced both ends of the Russian defensive line to curve backwards. Seeing they were about to be encircled, the Russians began a general retreat, fighting a series of fierce rearguard actions, which soon deteriorated in the confusion and collapse of Russian forces. On 10 March 1905 after three weeks of fighting, General Kuropatkin decided to withdraw to the north of Mukden. The Russians lost 90,000 men in the battle.
The retreating Russian Manchurian Army formations disbanded as fighting units, but the Japanese failed to destroy them completely. The Japanese themselves had suffered large casualties and were in no condition to pursue. Although the battle of Mukden was a major defeat for the Russians and was the most decisive land battle ever fought by the Japanese, the final victory still depended on the navy.
The Russian Second Pacific Squadron (the renamed Baltic Fleet) sailed 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) to relieve Port Arthur. The demoralizing news that Port Arthur had fallen reached the fleet while it was still at Madagascar. Admiral Rozhestvensky's only hope now was to reach the port of Vladivostok. There were three routes to Vladivostok, with the shortest and most direct passing through Tsushima Straits between Korea and Japan. However, this was also the most dangerous route as it passed between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese naval bases in Korea.
Admiral Togo was aware of Russian progress and understood that, with the fall of Port Arthur, the Second and Third Pacific Squadrons would try to reach the only other Russian port in the Far East, Vladivostok. Battle plans were laid down and ships were repaired and refitted to intercept the Russian fleet.
The Japanese Combined Fleet, which had originally consisted of six battleships, was now down to four (two had been lost to mines), but still retained its cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats. The Russian Second Pacific Squadron contained eight battleships, including four new battleships of the Borodino class, as well as cruisers, destroyers and other auxiliaries for a total of 38 ships.
By the end of May the Second Pacific Squadron was on the last leg of its journey to Vladivostok, taking the shorter, riskier route between Korea and Japan, and travelling at night to avoid discovery. Unfortunately for the Russians, while in compliance with the rules of war, the two trailing hospital ships had continued to burn their lights, which were spotted by the Japanese armed merchant cruiser Shinano Maru. Wireless communication was used to inform Togo's headquarters, where the Combined Fleet was immediately ordered to sortie. Still receiving naval intelligence from scouting forces, the Japanese were able to position their fleet so that they would "cross the T" of the Russian fleet. The Japanese engaged battle in the Tsushima Straits on 27–28 May 1905. The Russian fleet was virtually annihilated, losing eight battleships, numerous smaller vessels, and more than 5,000 men, while the Japanese lost three torpedo boats and 116 men. Only three Russian vessels escaped to Vladivostok. After the Battle of Tsushima, a combined Japanese Army and Navy operation occupied Sakhalin Island to force the Russians to sue for peace.
Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Most were able to report on events from the perspective of "embedded" positions within the land and naval forces of both Russia and Japan. These military attachés and other observers prepared first-hand accounts of the war and analytical papers. In-depth observer narratives of the war and more narrowly focused professional journal articles were written soon after the war; and these post-war reports conclusively illustrated the battlefield destructiveness of this conflict. This was the first time the tactics of entrenched positions for infantry defended with machine guns and artillery became vitally important. Both would become dominant factors in World War I. Even though entrenched positions had already been a significant part of both the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War, it is now apparent that the high casualty counts, and the tactical lessons readily available to observer nations, were completely disregarded in preparations for war in Europe, and during much of the course of World War I.
In 1904–1905, Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton was the military attaché of the British Indian Army serving with the Japanese army in Manchuria. As one of the several military attachés from Western countries he was the first to arrive in Japan after the start of the war. He therefore would be recognized as the dean of multi-national attachés and observers in this conflict, although out-ranked by British Field Marshal William Gustavus Nicholson, 1st Baron Nicholson, who was later to become Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
The defeats of the Russian Army and Navy shook Russian confidence. Throughout 1905, the Imperial Russian government was rocked by revolution. The population was against escalation of the war. The Empire was certainly capable of sending more troops, but the poor state of the economy, the embarrassing defeats of the Russian army and navy by the Japanese, and the relative unimportance of the disputed land to Russia made the war extremely unpopular. Tsar Nicholas II elected to negotiate peace so he could concentrate on internal matters after the disaster of Bloody Sunday on 22 January 1905.
Both sides accepted the offer of American President Theodore Roosevelt to mediate; meetings were held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Sergius Witte leading the Russian delegation and Baron Komura, a graduate of Harvard, leading the Japanese Delegation. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on 5 September 1905. Witte became Russian Prime Minister the same year.
After courting the Japanese, Roosevelt decided to support the Tsar's refusal to pay indemnities, a move that policymakers in Tokyo interpreted as signifying that the United States had more than a passing interest in Asian affairs. Russia recognized Korea as part of the Japanese sphere of influence and agreed to evacuate Manchuria. Japan would annex Korea in 1910, with scant protest from other powers.
Russia also signed over its 25-year leasehold rights to Port Arthur, including the naval base and the peninsula around it, and ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan. Sakhalin would be taken back by the Soviet Union following the defeat of the Japanese in World War II.
Roosevelt earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. George E. Mowry concludes that Roosevelt handled the arbitration well, doing an "excellent job of balancing Russian and Japanese power in the Orient, where the supremacy of either constituted a threat to growing America."
Sources do not agree on a precise number of deaths from the war because of lack of body counts for confirmation. The number of Japanese army dead in combat is put at around 47,000 with around 27,000 additional casualties from disease, and between 6,000 and 12,000 of wounds. Estimates of Russian army dead range from around 40,000 to around 70,000 men. The total number of army dead is generally stated as around 130,000 to 170,000. China suffered 20,000 civilian deaths, and financially the loss amounted to over 69 million taels' worth of silver.
During many of the battles at sea, several thousand soldiers being transported by sea drowned after their ships went down. There was no consensus about what to do with transported soldiers at sea, and as a result, many of the ships failed or refused to rescue soldiers that were left shipwrecked. This led to the creation of the second Geneva Convention in 1906, which gave protection and care for shipwrecked soldiers in armed conflict.
This was the first major military victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European nation. Russia's defeat was met with shock in the West and across the Far East. Japan's prestige rose greatly as it came to be seen as a modern nation. Concurrently, Russia lost virtually its entire Pacific and Baltic fleets, and also much international esteem. This was particularly true in the eyes of Germany and Austria-Hungary before World War I. Russia was France and Serbia's ally, and that loss of prestige had a significant effect on Germany's future when planning for war with France, and Austria-Hungary's war with Serbia.
In the absence of Russian competition, and with the distraction of European nations during World War I, combined with the Great Depression that followed, the Japanese military began efforts to dominate China and the rest of Asia, which eventually led to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War theatres of World War II.
Although popular support for the war had existed following the Japanese attack on Port Arthur in 1904, discontent would occur following continued defeats at the hands of Japan. For many Russians, the immediate shock of unexpected humiliation at the hands of Japan, the conflict came to be viewed as a metaphor for the shortcomings of the Romanov autocracy. Popular discontent in Russia after the war added more fuel to the already simmering Russian Revolution of 1905, an event Nicholas II of Russia had hoped to avoid entirely by taking intransigent negotiating stances prior to coming to the table at all. Twelve years later, that discontent boiled over into the February Revolution of 1917. In Poland, which Russia partitioned in the late 18th century, and where Russian rule already caused two major uprisings, the population was so restless that an army of 250,000–300,000—larger than the one facing the Japanese—had to be stationed to put down the unrest. Notably, some political leaders of the Polish insurrection movement (in particular, Józef Piłsudski) sent emissaries to Japan to collaborate on sabotage and intelligence gathering within the Russian Empire and even plan a Japanese-aided uprising.
In Russia, the defeat of 1905 led in the short term to a reform of the Russian military that allowed it to face Germany in World War I. However, the revolts at home following the war planted the seeds that presaged the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Japan had become the rising Asian power and had proven that its military could combat the major powers in Europe. Most Western powers were stunned that the Japanese not only prevailed but decisively defeated Russia. In the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had also portrayed a sense of readiness in taking a more active and leading role in Asian affairs, which in turn had led to widespread nationalism throughout the region.
Although the war had ended in a victory for Japan, Japanese public opinion was shocked by the very restrained peace terms which were negotiated at the war's end. Widespread discontent spread through the populace upon the announcement of the treaty terms. Riots erupted in major cities in Japan. Two specific requirements, expected after such a costly victory, were especially lacking: territorial gains and monetary reparations to Japan. The peace accord led to feelings of distrust, as the Japanese had intended to retain all of Sakhalin Island, but were forced to settle for half of it after being pressured by the United States, with President Roosevelt opting to support Nicholas II’s stance on not ceding territory or paying reparations.
The U.S held strength in the Asian region from aggravating European imperialist encroachment. To Japan, this represented a developing threat to the autonomy of the region. U.S.-Japanese relations would recover a bit in the early 20th century, but by the early-1920s few in Japan believed that the United States meant anything positive for the future of Asia. By the 1930s, United States presence in Asian affairs, along with the instability in China and collapse of the Western economic order, Japan would act aggressively with respect to China, setting the precedent that would ultimately culminate in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Some scholars suggest that Japan's road to World War II had begun not upon winning the Russo-Japanese War, but when it lost the peace.
The effects and impact of the Russo-Japanese War would introduce a number of characteristics that would come to define 20th century politics and warfare. Many of the technological innovations brought on by the Industrial Revolution would first become present on the battlefield in the Russo-Japanese War. Weapons and armaments were more technological than ever before in history. Technological developments of modern armaments, such as rapid firing artillery, machine guns, as well as more accurate carbine rifles, would first be used on a mass scale in the Russo-Japanese War. The improved capability of naval forces was also demonstrated in the Russo-Japanese War. Here was the introduction of iron-clad, steam driven boats, equipped with large and heavy guns. Military operations on both sea and land demonstrated that warfare in a new age of technology had undergone a considerable change since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Most army commanders had previously envisioned using these weapon systems to dominate the battlefield on an operational and tactical level but as events played out, these technological advancements would forever alter the capacity in which mankind would wage war. For East Asia it was the first confrontation after thirty years involving two modern armed forces.
The advanced weaponry led to massive casualty counts. Neither Japan nor Russia had prepared for the number of deaths that would occur in this new kind of warfare, or had the resources to compensate for these losses. This also left its impression on society at large, with the emergence of transnational and nongovernmental organizations, like the Red Cross, becoming prominent after the war. The emergence of such organizations can be regarded as a beginning of meshing together of civilizations through the identification of common problems and challenges; a slow process dominating much of the 20th Century.
To the Western powers, the Japan victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War demonstrated the emergence of a new Asian regional power in Japan. With the Russian defeat, some scholars have argued that the Russo-Japanese War had set in motion a change in the global world order with the emergence of Japan as not only a regional power, but rather, the main Asian power.
Debate with respect to the Russo-Japanese War preluding World War II has been a topic of interest to scholars today. Arguments that are favorable toward this perspective consider characteristics specific to the Russo-Japanese War to the qualities definitive of ‘total war.’ Numerous aspects of ‘total war’ characterize the Russo-Japanese War. Encompassed on both ends was the mass mobilization of troops into battle. For both Russia and Japan, the war required extensive economic support in the form of production of equipment, armaments, and supplies at such a scale that required both domestic support as well as foreign aid. The conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War also demonstrated the need of world leaders to regard domestic response to foreign policy, which is argued by some scholars as setting in motion the dissolution of the Romanov dynasty by demonstrating the inefficiencies of tsarist Russia government.
Russia had lost two of its three fleets. Only its Black Sea Fleet remained, and this was the result of an earlier treaty that had prevented the fleet from leaving the Black Sea. Japan became the sixth-most powerful naval force, while the Russian navy declined to one barely stronger than that of Austria–Hungary. The actual costs of the war were large enough to affect the Russian economy and, despite grain exports, the nation developed an external balance of payments deficit. The cost of military re-equipment and re-expansion after 1905 pushed the economy further into deficit, although the size of the deficit was obscured.
A lock of Admiral Nelson's hair was given to the Imperial Japanese Navy by the British Royal Navy after the war to commemorate the victory of the Battle of Tsushima, which was considered on a par with Britain's victory at Trafalgar in 1805. It is still on display at Kyouiku Sankoukan, a public museum maintained by the Japan Self-Defense Force.
The Japanese were on the offensive for most of the war and used massed infantry assaults against defensive positions, which would later become the standard of all European armies during World War I. The battles of the Russo-Japanese War, in which machine guns and artillery took a heavy toll on Russian and Japanese troops, were a precursor to the trench warfare of World War I. A German military advisor sent to Japan, Jakob Meckel, had a tremendous impact on the development of the Japanese military training, tactics, strategy, and organization. His reforms were credited with Japan's overwhelming victory over China in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. However, his over-reliance on infantry in offensive campaigns also led to a large number of Japanese casualties.
Military and economic exhaustion affected both countries. Japanese historians regard this war as a turning point for Japan, and a key to understanding the reasons why Japan may have failed militarily and politically later. After the war, acrimony was felt at every level of Japanese society and it became the consensus within Japan that their nation had been treated as the defeated power during the peace conference. As time went on, this feeling, coupled with the sense of "arrogance" at becoming a Great Power, grew and added to growing Japanese hostility towards the West, and fueled Japan's military and imperial ambitions. Only five years after the War, Japan de jure annexed Korea as part of its colonial empire. In 1931, 21 years later, Japan invaded Manchuria in the Mukden Incident. This culminated in the invasion of East, Southeast and South Asia in World War II in an attempt to create a great Japanese colonial empire, the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. As a result, most Chinese historians consider the Russo-Japanese War as a key development of Japanese militarism.
Russia and Japan were not the only countries affected by the war. As a consequence, the British Admiralty enlarged its docks at Auckland, New Zealand; Bombay, British India; Fremantle, Australia; British Hong Kong; Simon's Town, Cape Colony; Singapore and Sydney, Australia. The 1904–1905 war confirmed the direction of the Admiralty's thinking in tactical terms while undermining its strategic grasp of a changing world. For example, the Admiralty's tactical orthodoxy assumed that a naval battle would imitate the conditions of stationary combat, and that ships would engage in one long line sailing on parallel courses; but in reality, more flexible tactical thinking would be required in the next war. A firing ship and its target would maneuver independently at various ranges and at various speeds and in convergent or divergent courses.
Despite its gold reserves of 106.3 million pounds, Russia's pre-war financial situation was not enviable. The country had large budget deficits year after year, and was largely dependent on borrowed money.
Russia's war effort was funded primarily by France, in a series of loans totalling 800 million francs; another loan in the amount of 600 million francs was agreed upon, but later cancelled. These loans were extended within a climate of mass bribing of the French press (made necessary by Russia's precarious economic and social situation and poor military performance). Although initially reluctant to participate in the war, the French government and major banks were co-operative since it became clear that Russian and French economic interests were tied. In addition to French money, Russia secured a German loan in the amount of 500 million marks.
Conversely, Japan's pre-war gold reserves were a modest 11.7 million pounds; a major portion of the total cost of the war was covered by money borrowed from the United Kingdom and the United States.
During his canvassing expedition in London, the Japanese Vice-Governor of the Bank of Japan met Jacob Schiff, an American banker and head of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Schiff was sympathetic to Japan's cause, and extended a critical series of loans to the Empire of Japan, in the amount of 200 million dollars.
see also film list about Russo-Japanese war
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