The Russian-Japanese war was a 1904-1905 military conflict between the Russian Empire and the Japanese Empire. The Russo-Japanese War began because of a dispute over influence in Southeast Asia and ended in an embarrassing defeat for the Russian Empire, which revealed significant problems for the Tsarist regime. Tsar Nicholas II regarded Japan as an easy enemy, a semi-feudal nation of barefoot samurai daimyo unable to stand up to Russia’s military might. The Japanese Empire had no doubt in the Russo-Japanese War that victory would cement its place as an emerging great power after its victory in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).
The Portsmouth Treaty did not grant Japan the territory or financial reparations it had expected, despite its considerable investment in energy and blood in the Russo-Japanese war. Five years after the war, Japan annexed Korea as part of its colonial empire. Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula five years later, an act that had important implications for World War II.
The Russo-Japanese War despite tensions in the region has shifted the balance of global powers, defeating an Asian nation militarily against a European nation for the first time in modern history. The war took a bitter toll on both sides and contributed to internal unrest between the two powers. After a costly and humiliating series of Russian defeats, the war left behind a demoralized Russian empire, fueling Russian anger at Tsar Nicholas II’s failed policies and igniting the flames of political dissent that would eventually replace the Russian government in the 1917 Russian Revolution.
In 1904, Russia and Japan had endured several years of dispute over control of Manchuria. A Japanese attempt to stage a coup d’état in neighboring Korea had been thwarted in part because Russia was present in the region and it appeared likely that the two nations would “confront” divergent interests. In the same year, the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, and a formal declaration of war was given as a surprise in Moscow, but the Russians earned an early victory.
Russia entered Manchuria during the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1995) alongside Germany and France as part of a triple intervention to force Japan to abandon its demand for ports in the south of the Manchurian Peninsula of Liaodong after its victory over China. The ports of Arthur and Liaodong were fortified as important naval bases of the Russian Imperial Army. Russia later moved into the region to take control of Port Arthur, a hot-water port of strategic and commercial importance.
The Russian imperial army needed control of the sea to wage war on the Asian mainland, and its first military goal was to neutralize the Russian fleet at Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula in southern Manchuria. On 8 February 1904, under Admiral Togo Heihachiro, the Japanese fleet opened the war with a surprising torpedo and destroyer attack on Russian ships in Arthur Harbour. The attack heavily damaged the Tsesarevich Retvizan, the heaviest battleship in Russia’s Far Eastern theatre, and the 6,600-tonne cruiser Pallada.
The Japan-Russia War (1904-1905) was a rival imperialism ambition in Manchuria and Korea. In May 1905 the entire Russian Baltic Fleet was captured in the Battle of Tsushima or was destroyed in a catastrophe that unfolded before the eyes of the world. Japan launched an amphibious assault on Korea on the Liaodong Peninsula, prompting Russian forces to retreat to Mukden.
After the war and peace talks, the American public sided with Japan. At the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japan feared Russian intervention in its plans to create a sphere of influence in Korea and Manchuria. Gen. Aleksey Kuropatkin, War Minister of Nicholas II, observed with concern the increase in Japanese forces.
Recognizing that Japan had gained supremacy in East Asia by the summer of 1903, general Alexei Kuropatkin, Nicholas II’s war minister, recommended that Russia abandon its project in Manchuria and return the port of Arthur to China in exchange for concessions in the region of Vladivostok. Kuropatkin’s proposal was accepted, but extremist imperial courts, powerful trade interests, and Russian expansionism in East Asia nullified his policy. For example, the Russian viceroy of the far east, Yevgeny Ivanovich Alexeyev (1843-1917) encouraged the tsar to strengthen his Far Eastern troops when they were to withdraw from the region.
In June, Oyama Iwao, Chief of Staff during the Russo-Japanese War, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Manchurian Army and sent to the battle. A wave of oppositional activity culminated in the Revolution of 1905 when protests of liberals, socialists, workers, farmers, ethnic minorities, soldiers, and sailors (such as the Black Sea Fleet and the Battleship Potemkin) forced the tsar to accept Russia as its first parliament.