General Kuropatkin at this time had probably more than four hundred thousand fighting men at his command, while the forces under Marshal Oyama were nearly half a million.
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.
The veterans of General Nogi’s army, or rather what remained of them, hurried north to join their brothers against Kuropatkin. The Russian chiefs, anticipating this, endeavored to forestall it by an unexpected counter-attack in midwinter. Under cover of night, and in the midst of a fierce snowstorm which beat into the faces of the foe, a Russian army, under General Gripenberg, suddenly attacked the west end of the widely extended Japanese army line, and captured the town of Heikautai (January 25th.) . The Japanese hastily rallied to the threatened point, but on both sides the battle was fought against the elements rather than against a human foe. The thermometer fell to twenty degrees below zero; a terrific, icy storm-wind raged across the unprotected fields. Men froze to icicles where they stood, in the pauses of the strife. For three days did this grim and awful battle of Heikautai continue, despite all Nature’s power. Then it became evident that the surprise had failed, that the Japanese were equal even to this supreme test of endurance; and the attack was abandoned. It had cost more than ten thousand lives on either side.
Considering the severity of the winter, spring comes early in Manchuria; and Marshal Oyama now decided to make a general attack before the rivers, over which he must operate, should thaw out and become impassable. So on February 23d he began the three-weeks’ struggle that constituted the battle of Mukden, the last huge land-fight of the war, the most gigantic clash of arms the world has ever seen, exceeding even the greatest of ancient conflicts, probably, in the number of warriors engaged, and certainly far outclassing all others in the death-dealing power of the weapons used. *
[* Remember that this was written before World War I began. – JL]
General Kuropatkin at this time had probably more than four hundred thousand fighting men at his command, while the forces under Marshal Oyama were nearly half a million. The latter were now divided into five armies. On the extreme eastward of the line, in the mountains, were the wholly new forces just arrived from Japan under General Kawamura. Next to them came Kuroki’s veterans, who had been advancing along this line ever since the crossing of the Yalu. Then came Nodzu’s army in the center; then Oku’s; and on the extreme left or westward were Nogi’s reinforcements, though the alignment of this last army was unknown to the Russians. Indeed, they thought it lay to the east, and that the foe were trying to encircle them from that side. The attack began at the east. Kawamura and Kuroki drove back the forces opposed to them, and General Kuropatkin, believing the advancing force to be even more powerful than it was, sent troops from his western wing to reinforce the east.
Gradually as the days went by, the roar of battle spread westward. Three thousand cannon shook the earth with such an uproar as man had never made before. Nodzu and Oku both engaged in terrific frontal attacks. Then came the final enveloping movement from the west. Nogi’s army, speeding forward by forced marches, advanced almost unopposed and finally reached the railway twenty miles northward of Mukden, in Kuropatkin’s rear. At the same time the troops of Kawamura and Kuroki closed in from the east; their scouts met those of Nogi. On March 9th Kuropatkin telegraphed to St. Petersburg that his forces were surrounded. Destruction seemed inevitable.
With indomitable courage, however, the Russian troops maintained themselves along the railway line. That single avenue of retreat was kept open; and beside its track, or scattered through the mountain defiles, the troops fled northward, still resisting, still struggling. The Japanese poured a steady rain of fire upon the retreat, and again and again they charged down upon the marching columns, hoping to cut them off and force them back upon Mukden.
Of that gigantic Russian army of four hundred thousand men, little more than half did finally escape. About fifty thousand surrendered; more than a hundred thousand fell in the battle and retreat. Nor was the victory without its cost to Japan; the loss to her troops probably reached sixty thousand. The total losses on both sides exceeded two hundred thousand men, an army larger than the entire forces engaged at the greatest of American battles, Gettysburg. The figures are so vast they become almost meaningless.
In the moment of this downfall of his last hopes, Kuropatkin resigned his command, and the generalship over the defeated remnant of the Russian army was assigned to General Linievitch, the subordinate commander who had been most successful in rescuing his troops from the general disaster. Kuropatkin nobly exchanged places with his former lieutenant and remained upon the field to give his country such service as he could in a minor rank.
Linievitch, with stubborn persistence, gathered and realigned his men far northward, in the vicinity of Harbin. He could still make a show of resistance. But for a time at least the Japanese refused to be drawn farther into the arctic wilds. They awaited the foe’s next effort at advance.
One more hope remained to the Russian Government, if hope it was. Slowly and with much procrastination all the available warships in European waters had been gathered into what was called the “Baltic fleet.” The first division of this powerful force, which, at least on paper, was stronger than Japan’s entire navy, sailed from the Baltic in October, 1904, under Admiral Rojestvensky on its remarkable voyage half around the world to meet its foe. The ships, however, were ill-prepared, and even in autocratic Russia there were voices of protest against dispatching them in such condition, toward what must prove inevitable destruction. So it was in somewhat dubious mood that the fleet began its voyage. Off the English coast it fired upon some British fishing-smacks, believing them to be Japanese torpedo-boats. Off Madagascar it lingered for months in French harbors, and reinforcements were dispatched to join it. At length, after many tedious delays, the united fleet reached Japanese waters in May, 1905. It appeared to be bound for Vladivostok, there to be refitted and rearranged after its long, trying voyage. But the Japanese were in waiting. Their swift scout-ships had reported the progress of the foe; and when Rojestvensky attempted to pass the strait between Korea and Japan, the full force of Admiral Togo’s fleet met him in battle (May 27th).
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