Tsushima and the Russo-Japanese War

By Goldstein, Jonas L. | Sea Classics, October 2007 | Go to article overview
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Tsushima and the Russo-Japanese War

Goldstein, Jonas L., Sea Classics

Japan's unparalleled victory over the Tsar's fleet unleashed a nation's pent-up pride and set in motion ambitions of Asian dominance which resulted in World War II

The roots of the Russo-Japanese War lay in a previous conflict between China and Japan, which took place during 1894-1895. The cause ofthat clash was a dispute over competing rights in Korea, particularly the market for cotton, which from about 1892 had begun to favor China. Anti-government uprisings in Korea provided the pretext for a Japanese invasion in 1894, followed by a series of battles favorable to Japan. In September, Pyongyang was captured, followed shortly by a Naval victory in the Yellow Sea. Japanese Adm. Ito defeated the obsolete Chinese fleet without difficulty. The Japanese took Port Arthur in November, and Weihaiwei fell during February 1895.

The Chinese Navy surrendered later the same month and there was an armistice in March. In April 1895, the Treaty of Shimoneseki recognized the independence of Korea, which in fact became a Japanese puppet, and ceded rights in Manchuria and Formosa, and the Pescadores Islands to Japan. This settlement led to aggressive European diplomacy that did not confine itself to the economic penetration of China. Germany advanced the idea that the European powers should guarantee their financial interests by occupying several Chinese ports. It took Kiao-chao, leaving the Liaotung Peninsula to Russia and Weihaiei to Great Britain. The Liaotung Peninsula was forcibly occupied by Russian troops under the terms of a 25-year lease on 27 March 1898.

The next Russian move in the Far East occurred in 1900 when its forces took part, along with other European powers, in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion. At this time, Manchuria was occupied by Russian troops. These events further strained Russo-Japanese relations. Japan had been deeply concerned by the Russian seizure of the Liaotung Peninsula. It also feared its economic competition in Korea. Further, Japan's desire to attack Russia for depriving her of the fruits of her previous victory led to the rapid development of her armed forces. But before committing herself to hostilities, she safeguarded her diplomatic position by signing the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902.

According to this agreement, Britain recognized Japanese rights in Korea and undertook to prevent the intervention of a third party in the event of a conflict with Russia. The alliance was welcomed in Britain as a means of checking the expansion of the Russians, since they had just fought them in the Crimea. As the leading industrial and Naval power in the world, Britain was a desirable friend and British officers helped form the neophyte Japanese Navy, while British shipbuilders constructed her first battleships according to their latest designs. Japan was now ready for war.

On 9 February 1904, without a declaration of war, Japanese armed vessels attacked the Russian ships in the outer harbor of Port Arthur. The Russians had turned it into a Naval base for their Far Eastern fleet. The Japanese sent in ten destroyers that torpedoed two battleships and a cruiser, all of which were subsequently repaired. They then landed their battle-experienced armies in Manchuria. In this effort, they lost two of their battleships to enemy mines. Their aim was to defeat the Russian military forces in the Far East and force a peace on their terms. They did not consider total victory possible.

In the first high-seas action of the war, the Battle of the Yellow Sea on 10 August 1904, Adm. Heihacniro Togo's Combined Fleet turned back an attempt by the Russian Pacific squadron to break out of Port Arthur and head for Vladivostok Neither side lost a ship in the engagement, but the unprecedented range at which the battle was fought (between 8700- and 9800-yds) drew world-wide attention. Admiral Togo's Naval service began in the 1860s. He spent three-years training in England during the following decade, and he distinguished himself during the Sino-Japanese war, as well as commanding the Japanese Naval contingent during the Boxer Rebellion.

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