The Russo-Japanese War (8 Feb. 1904 - 5 Sep. 1905) was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian and Japanese Empires over Manchuria and Korea. Russia sought a Pacific warm water port for maritime trade and its navy; Port Arthur was preferable to Vladivostok since it was open all year.
The stormy events of [the Russian Revolution of 1905] were connected with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. The ambitions of Russian Tsarism in Asia clashed with the westward thrust of the young and vigorous Japanese imperialism, which led it to invade Manchuria and push against the borders of Russia in the Far East and Siberia. The war rapidly exposed the inner rottenness of Tsarism, which suffered a series of humiliating defeats, culminating in the fall of Port Arthur. Here, not for the first or last time, war acted as the catalyst for revolution.
The Treaty [of Portsmouth] ultimately gave Japan control of Korea and much of South Manchuria, including Port Arthur and the railway that connected it with the rest of the region, along with the southern half of Sakhalin Island; Russian power was curtailed in the region, but it was not required to pay Japan’s war costs. Because neither nation was in a strong financial position to continue the war easily, both were forced to compromise in the terms of the peace. Still, the Japanese public felt they had won the war, and they considered the lack of an indemnity to be an affront. There was a brief outbreak of protests and rioting in Tokyo when the terms of the agreement were made public. Similarly, the Russian people were also dissatisfied, angry about giving up half of Sakhalin.
From late February through early March, the two forces committed over one-half million men at the battle of Mukden with both suffering heavy casualties. Russia lost almost 90,000 men and the Japanese over 50,000 and perhaps up to 70,000. Mukden, the last major land battle of the war, was followed by the decisive naval Battle of Tsushima in May 1905. The Russian Baltic Fleet was attempting to reach Vladivostok in Siberia when the Japanese destroyed it. By then both sides were facing internal difficulties, financial in Japan and political in Russia, and agreed to peace negotiations led by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The naval engagement at Tsushima in May 1905 ended with the destruction or capture of virtually the entire fleet that had been despatched to the Far East in 1904. The losses of capital vessels were subsequently valued at 230 million rubles, more than twice the annual budget for the navy as a whole and three-fifths or more of the capital value of the imperial fleet in 1904.
Japanese destroyers spotted the Russian fleet at 11.30 a.m., and at 12.10 p.m. the first shots were fired in what was to become known as The Battle of the Yellow Sea.
The Japanese Admiral, Togo, had four battleships, eleven cruisers and an assortment of some forty-six other craft, including destroyers and torpedo boats...Noting that the Russian Admiral seemed to be trying to manoeuvre away from contact and seek to escape using the cover of night, Togo ordered his main armaments to close on the enemy fleet. At 4.15 p.m. a general action was brought on, and after one and a half hours of confused and constant shelling Vitgeft’s flagship, the Tsarevich was hit by a 12 inch shell, killing the Admiral outright. Thereafter the rest of the Russian fleet, owing to a total breakdown in their command structure, milled around in confusion.
On February 8, 1904, Japan launched a surprise naval attack on Port Arthur. Japan bottled the Russian fleet in the harbor, but failed to take the port. In March, Japan's First Army occupied Korea, landing at Chemulpo (Inchon) and Nampo, and driving north for the Yalu River. In May, Japan landed more armies on the Liaodong peninsula and pushed northward, cutting off Port Arthur from reinforcements. Russia lost battles at Fuhsien and Liaoyang in the summer, but began receiving troops over the Trans-Siberian Railroad and counterattacked in the fall. Japan was becoming over-extended, yet on Jan. 2, 1905 the commander of Port Arthur surrendered.
The treaty was duly signed in London and was considered a triumph in Japan, where it had a powerful influence in boosting national pride. For the first time a European country had allied with an Asiatic power against a Western rival. In effect, the British sanctioned Japanese aggression in Korea and strengthened the Japanese to challenge the Russians successfully in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, which put Japan on course to dominate Manchuria.
It was agreed that if either of the high contracting parties [of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance] became involved in war with another country, the other party would remain neutral. If either party were confronted by two or more opponents, however, the other party would come to its aid. Japan could now count on the British in a war with Russia if any other power (France and Germany were the ones in mind) were to ally with Russia. Japanese domination of Korea was tacitly accepted.
During her negotiations with Japan, Russia did not expect the Japanese to go to war. After all, Japan was a newly emergent country...The Russian army was the world's most powerful, or at least that is what the Russians believed. But the Japanese had other ideas. Japan knew that they could not win a long war fought over a vast expanse, but they could win a short localized war.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 caused the European powers and Japan to send troops to China to suppress the rebels. When the fighting was over, Russian troops were occupying Manchuria. Russia promised to withdraw these forces by 1903, but failed to do so, wishing to hold Manchuria as a springboard for further expansion of her interest in the Far East. Meanwhile Japan was heavily engaged in Korea, successfully increasing her influence in that country. Russia also had interest in Korea, and although at first Russians and Japanese managed to peacefully coexist, it was not long before tensions on both sides led to hostilities. Negotiations between the two nations began in 1901 but made little headway.
Ever since [the First Sino-Japanese War] closed and Japan was prevented by Russia and others from establishing herself at Port Arthur and other places on the mainland, she has cherished a spirit of vengeance against Russia and bided her time...Elated over their quick successes in [the First Sino-Japanese War], and priding themselves on the excellence of their new armaments, the Japanese military and naval officials together with a considerable part of the nation have been eager to measure their strength with a first-class military power...
On the Russian side, where it is generally felt that the heavier blame falls, the causes of the conflict have been her steady aggression eastward, the violation of her pledges to evacuate Manchuria, the indirectness, deceptiveness, and dilatoriness of her diplomatic methods, and her contempt of Japan.
Throughout the war and the peace talks, American public opinion largely sided with Japan. Believing that the Japanese were fighting a “just war” against Russian aggression, and that the island nation was equally committed to the Open Door and the territorial integrity of China, the American people were anxious to support it.