It is probable that more than two hundred thousand men on each side were engaged in the attack upon Liaoyang, thus making it, numerically, at least, a battle as vast as any in modern history.
Continuing The Russo-Japanese War,
with a selection from Article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XX by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Russo-Japanese War.
Place: Korea and Manchuria
After this grim fatality, the fortress was left to its own defense. There were months of slow advance by the Japanese, endless digging of trenches and embankments, mines and countermines — a war of engineers. Every foot of the advance was paid for by being drenched with blood. By the end of July, so far advanced were General Nogi’s preparations that he ordered a general assault upon the outlying Russian works, and succeeded in capturing a height known as “Wolf Mountain.” From this his heavy guns could throw their shells into Port Arthur harbor, and thus on August 10th the warships that lay there were driven to make another sortie.
Their orders, we are told, came direct from the Emperor himself. They were to break through the opposing fleet and make their way to Vladivostok or whatever place they could reach. Under no circumstances must they return to the harbor they were leaving. Five battleships and what few were left of the lesser vessels took part in this last dash. They were met vigorously by Admiral Togo, and were so bombarded and battered that, after hours of a resistance growing ever feebler, the badly damaged battleships returned to Port Arthur. The lesser vessels scattered, and scurried in all directions to escape. Some were sunk; others succeeded in reaching neutral harbors in China, where they were dismantled till the war should end. The battleships were dismantled in Port Arthur, their guns added to the defenses there, and their hulks sunk or shattered by Nogi’s fire. One, the Sevastopol, was torpedoed in a daring attack by Admiral Togo’s boats.
Despite these successes, the Japanese leaders, by the middle of August, began to feel their situation growing dangerous. Three Japanese armies — under General Kuroki, the hero of the Yalu; General Oku, the stormer of Nanshan; and a third commander, General Nodzu — were moving slowly northward, pressing back Kuropatkin in skirmishes and battles; but so rapidly were Russian reinforcements arriving that the armies against which the Japanese advanced began to outnumber their own. Meanwhile the progress against Port Arthur was slow and hideously costly. General Nogi determined to make one desperate effort to carry the fortress by storm, so that his army might join the others against Kuropatkin.
This tremendous assault, one of the most splendid and reckless in history, lasted day after day from August 19th to 24th. Whole columns of the Japanese were blown up by mines or swept away by shells. The defense was as resolute and as well conducted as the attack; and at last, after sacrificing fifteen thousand of his heroes, Nogi abandoned his efforts in despair. He himself had lost one son in the earlier operations, a second fell in this assault, and he had still a third. “They should delay the funeral ceremony,” said the father sadly, “until they could include us others in it also.” Seeing how many of his countrymen he had led to death, his fixed desire was to give his own life also to his country. Once more he settled back to the slow operations and advances of the siege, the war of engineers.
Field-Marshal Oyama, head of all the Japanese armies, had by this time taken active command of the combined forces against Kuropatkin. Since no help could now be expected from Nogi, Oyama must do his best with the three armies already in the field. To wait would only be to have the foe grow stronger. Hence, immediately following the failure of Nogi’s assault, came the great battle of Liaoyang, the first general contest between the entire body of the two main armies.
To understand the series of gigantic battles between Kuropatkin and Oyama we must have a general idea of the region in which the strife was waged. On a map of Manchuria appear several nearly parallel lines drawn from north to south, or somewhat southwest. The most easterly of these is the broad Yalu River, separating Manchuria from Korea. Then comes a fine of mountains, which at the southern end stretch out into the Chinese Sea, forming the hilly peninsula at whose tip lies Port Arthur. West of the mountains comes the line of the railway running north to Harbin; and west of this again flows the Liao River. The region between the mountains and the Liao is the heart of Manchuria, in which the fighting was to be. Eastward, as we approach the mountains, the land is high and hilly; westward it sinks down into vast, flat plains; and from east to west, from the mountains to the Liao, flow good-sized tributary rivers, fertilizing all the land. The most southerly of these rivers, intersecting the line of the railroad two hundred miles north of Port Arthur, is the Taitse; and where river and rail meet is the town of Liaoyang.
Liaoyang, the provincial capital of southern Manchuria, had in time of peace been an important town of sixty thousand inhabitants, but was now almost deserted by the Chinese, and had become the headquarters of Russia’s retreating forces. Its situation, from a military standpoint, is naturally strong; not only is the Taitse River so deep as to be unfordable, but the town lies at the edge of the mountainous region, surrounded by easily fortifiable hills, which to the east rise rapidly toward greater heights. Moreover, the natural defenses had been strengthened by artificial works of every description, upon which Russian engineers had labored ever since the beginning of the war.
It is probable that more than two hundred thousand men on each side were engaged in the attack upon Liaoyang, thus making it, numerically, at least, a battle as vast as any in modern history. It was no sudden, sweeping victory won in a few fierce hours of maddest energy, but lasted, as Nogi’s assault had done, day after day, from August 25th to September 4th. In vain did the Japanese make desperate assaults upon the strongly entrenched Russian front. At length, on August 31st, Kuroki, whose army lay farthest east of the Japanese, made a bold move among the hills, turning the enemy’s flank with a portion of his force, and threatening to seize the railroad in their rear. Up to this time the Russians had the better of the contest; but physically and mentally they seemed even more exhausted than their opponents. A determined assault might have crushed Kuroki’s relatively thin and feeble line. But Kuropatkin was uncertain of its strength; one division sent against it was ambushed and almost destroyed; and the Russian leader determined to retreat once more. This he did in good order and without serious loss. The Japanese were too exhausted to pursue. Each side had fought to the limit of human endurance.
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