Fought between 1904 and 1905 this war was waged between Czarist Russia and Japan for the purpose of determining which nation would be the dominant imperial power in Manchuria and Korea. The war's roots lay in the treaty concessions granted by China to Japan in 1895 at the end of the Sino-Japanese war. Russia contested the terms of the treaty and attempted to assert its control of Manchuria through military occupation of that region in the early 1900's. In addition, recently-offered treaty concessions by Korea for Russian timber extraction within northern Korea further heightened Japanese fears of Russian designs on Korea.

War broke out in 1904 with Japan breaking off diplomatic relations with Russia and launching a surprise attack on the Russian Eastern fleet stationed in Port Arthur. After the Japanese navy successfully fought this fleet and pinned the remaining elements within harbor, the Russian navy attempted to rectify the situation by sending its Baltic fleet around the Horn and into the Sea of China. This effort failed and in battle with Japanese naval forces the Russian navy was defeated. Due to these setbacks and facing a serious revolt at home, the Russian government sued for peace. Theodore Roosevelt played a key role in the negotiations between these two powers and resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth being signed on September 5th, 1905.

Japanese success in this war resulted in the successful establishment of Japan as the dominant colonial power with East Asia and laid the foundation for their colonial empire. It can be further argued that their early success in this war, which allowed them to expand as a colonial empire, was one of the initial steps that led to the beginning for World War II with the Marco Polo Bridge incident. Certainly it is safe to say that with the successful completion of this war Japan joined the ranks of Western European nations as one of the great powers of the day.

Primary source, Comptons Online Encyclopedia

This war is also notable as a 'precursor' to World War I's land battles. All of the elements that made World War I such a lethal stalemate (poor logistics, machine guns, trench warfare, artillery duels) were utilized or came about in this war. Not only that, but most of the major European powers actually had observers present for this conflict, who wrote home about the things they'd seen.

Despite all this, the outcome of the opening battles of World War I seemed to catch all those involved completely by surprise. It was not predicted that static, trench-based fronts would develop; nor that the machine gun would offer the defense a huge advantage over the offense, nor that logistics constraints would prevent large, fast troop movements much past available railheads. This is merely a component of the many Big Questions about World War I, the most interesting from a tactical standpoint being 'how did everyone get their predictions of the effect of the introduction of the machine gun so very wrong?'

The Russo-Japanese war shows us that there was a deeper problem than the typical 'fog of the future' and lack of information - even when the information was available (and graphically so, for those who observed this conflict) it wasn't assimilated into the worldview of those gearing up to fight with these new weapons and tactics.

When Russia allied with France and Great Britain in the 1890s, it also gained the ability to extend its influence into Asia. By 1895, Russia and Germany were competing for favor with France. Russia's position as a gateway to Asia from the West made it the power of choice for Britian to negotiate with in order to gain influence in the area. After Japan defeated China in 1895, Russia stepped in and forced Japan to give up rights in Liaotung Peninsula and Port Arthur, located in southern Manchuria, which Russia used to build a railroad with the help of French funds.

All this foreign activity in China resulted in the Boxer Rebellion, which both Japan and Russia sent forces into China to put down. Both countries were backed by other foreign powers with interest in the region. Japan then demanded that Russia get out of Manchuria. The tsar of the time, Nicholas, wanted to compromise ? but his enemies in the government went against his decisions, and in the end he relented. Russia's official standpoint was refusal of Japan's demands until, in 1904, they declared war. By 1905 Russia was definitely losing, and although reinforcements could have made victory, diplomatic pressure by other foreign countries persuaded the tsar to accept mediation by President Roosevelt of the United States. Before the war, the tsar was willing to trade Korea for Manchuria; at the end of the war, he wound up ceding superiority in both regions to Japan.

Work Cited:
Imperialism in Asia and the Russo-Japanese War.
From Russia: A Country Study, ed. Glenn E. Curtis Washington: Library of Congress, 1989).

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