To appreciate the difficulty of the general military situation from Russia’s viewpoint, we must keep in mind that she was ill-prepared for war, and that the Manchurian coast line is five thousand miles from St. Petersburg, connected with it by only the single track of the new Siberian railway.
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
Now this chance was gone. It was not merely that Russia’s two largest battleships and two of her best cruisers had been rendered useless; her moral loss was even greater. Hitherto, Europeans had swept down upon Asiatics with a proud consciousness of race superiority that took no heed of the numbers or the weapons of the foe. Again and again, in India, in China, even in the American occupation of the Philippines, this racial pride had justified itself, had made the apparently impossible possible. Now this pride had failed. The Russian naval officers could not but admit that the Japanese had maneuvered better, fired straighter, and shown equal hardihood with themselves. Russia’s prestige and self-confidence were gone. The fleet within Port Arthur became a demoralized mass. For a time at least, its ships were cowed and useless. Even Admiral Togo seemed not fully to realize, or perhaps to trust, the measure of his success. He feared lest the Russian ships should again attack him. He tried to block the Port Arthur harbor, as the Americans aimed to block that of Santiago in the Spanish War, only his work was on a larger scale. Three times were fleets of stone-laden ships rushed forward and sunk in the harbor mouth, Japanese sailors, more than a hundred in number, devoting themselves to destruction with impressive heroism. But each attempt was unsuccessful; the Russian forts were too alert, the Russian gunfire had improved too much.
For two months the blockade continued, and then a new commander arrived from Russia, Admiral Makaroff, a seaman of tried courage and resource. He infused new life into the demoralized Russians. He took the offensive; repeatedly now the Russian ships appeared in the outer harbor challenging the foe. Then the new leader fell into a trap. The Japanese planted floating mines about the harbor mouth, and afterward most of their ships steamed off beyond the horizon. The Russian fleet, headed by Admiral Makaroff in his best battleship, the Petropaulovsk, came out in pursuit of one small squadron. The main fleet of the foe re-advanced against him, and he turned back toward safety. Then came the catastrophe — the Petropaulovsk struck a mine, and perhaps a second one. There was a terrific explosion, a spectacular upheaval, and the gallant ship sank with all on board (April 13th).
A few survivors of the battered, mangled crew were saved, but about six hundred perished, including not only Makaroff himself, but also a man of peace, the celebrated Russian painter Verestchagin, who had gone to Asia specially to paint scenes of the war, and was a guest on the Petropaulovsk on her fatal trip. Another ship was injured at the same time, and once more the Russian fleet was reduced to a state of hopelessness and incompetency.
The losses, nevertheless, were not wholly on Russia’s side. One of the six Japanese battleships had been sunk in the numerous bombardments of Port Arthur, though its loss was not admitted to the world by the Japanese Government until nearly a year afterward. Two cruisers collided in a fog, and one was sunk. Another battleship struck a mine and was destroyed, almost paralleling the Petropaulovsk disaster. The central naval strength of Japan was thus reduced one-third. Moreover, a squadron of Russian cruisers was at Vladivostok; and, when the spring opened that port, they raided the coast of Japan, destroying some valuable supply-ships, and sinking one transport, the devoted patriots on which refused to surrender and went down to death chanting the national anthem of Japan. Yet, on the whole, Japan maintained virtual mastery of the sea; the first act of the great naval drama had ended with the death of Makaroff.
Land operations now superseded, and soon dwarfed, the battles of the navies. Japan had been slow in transporting her troops to the mainland, until assured of their safety on the passage. But by degrees she occupied Korea, and by the end of April had an army of more than fifty thousand men on its northwestern border, where the river Yalu separates it from Manchuria. There had been some Cossack raids into Korea, but as yet no determined opposition to the Japanese advance. On the other bank of the Yalu, however, the Russians were assembled in force.
To appreciate the difficulty of the general military situation from Russia’s viewpoint, we must keep in mind that she was ill-prepared for war, and that the Manchurian coast line is five thousand miles from St. Petersburg, connected with it by only the single track of the new Siberian railway. There were perhaps a hundred thousand troops in Manchuria in February, a tremendous number when we think of each one as an individual, unwillingly separated from home and all its ties; but far too few when we consider the hundreds of miles of railroad to be defended, the Chinese brigands to be suppressed, and the far-reaching coastline on any point of which a Japanese army might descend.
In her need, Russia gave command of all her Asiatic forces to the man at the center of affairs, her minister-of-war, a noted leader and hero of the Turkish contest of 1878, General Kuropatkin. With his full knowledge of the situation, Kuropatkin was at least superior to the folly of underestimating his foe. He recognized the Japanese as equal to the Russians, man for man, and adopted the only possible plan of campaign against an equal foe. This was, to delay the enemy’s advance, to make a pretense of resisting them, to face them from behind strong entrenchments, but to avoid any general battle, and retreat slowly, until at length troops could reach him from Russia, sufficient to enable him to fight upon equal terms.
Hence a division of Kuropatkin’s troops, thirty thousand in number, under General Sassulitch, was detailed to guard the passage of the Yalu, but had orders to withdraw before an attack in force. The men were strongly posted and entrenched upon high hills, where the foe dared not attack them until full preparations had been made.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history