The Russo-Japanese War
( Originally Published 1910 )
Russia's Schemes for Conquest—Conflicting Interests in Korea-Hostilities Begin—The First Battles—The Blockade Dispersion of the Russian Fleet Battle of Liao-yang—Fall of Port Arthur—Battle of Mukden —The Armada—Battle of Tsushima—The Peace of Portsmouth-The Effect on China
TO THE Chinese the retrospect of these five wars left little room for those pompous pretensions which appeared to be their vital breath.
Beaten by Western powers and by the new power of the East, their capital taken a second time after forty years' opportunity to fortify it, and their fugitive court recalled a second time to reign on sufferance or during good behaviour, what had they left to boast of except the antiquity of their country and the number of their people? Dazed and paralysed, most of them gave way to a sullen resignation that differed little from despair.Beaten by Western powers and by the new power of the East, their capital taken a second time after forty years' opportunity to fortify it, and their fugitive court recalled a second time to reign on sufferance or during good behaviour, what had they left to boast of except the antiquity of their country and the number of their people? Dazed and paralysed, most of them gave way to a sullen resignation that differed little from despair.
There were, indeed, a few who, before things came to the worst, saw that China's misfortunes were due to folly, not fate. Ignorant conservatism had made her weak; vigorous reform might make her strong. But another war was required to turn the feeling of the few into a conviction of the many. This change was accomplished by a war waged within their borders but to which they were not a party—a war which was not an act in their national drama, but a spectacle for which they furnished the stage. That spectacle calls for notice in the present work on account of its influence on the destinies of China.
For the springs of action it will be necessary to go back three centuries, to the time when Yermak crossed the Ural Mountains and made Russia an Asiatic power. The conquest of Siberia was not to end in Siberia. Russia saw in it a chance to enrich herself at the expense of weaker neighbours. What but that motive led her, in 1858, to demand the Manchurian seacoast as the price of neutrality? What but that led her to construct the longest railway in the world? What but that impelled her to seek for it a second terminus on the Gulf of Pechili?
The occupation of Port Arthur and Liao-tung by the Japanese, in 1895, was a checkmate to Russia's little game; and, supported by France and Germany, she gave her notice to quit. During the Boxer War of 1900, Russia increased her forces in Manchuria to pro-vide for the eventualities of a probable break-up, and after the peace her delay in fulfilling her promise of evacuation was tantamount to a refusal.
Had the Russians confined their attention to Manchuria they might have continued to remain in possession; but another feeble state offered itself as a tempting prize. They set greedy eyes on Korea, made interest with an impoverished court, and obtained the privilege of navigating the Yalu and cutting timber on its banks. This proceeding, though explained by the requirements of railway construction, aroused the suspicion and jealousy of the Japanese. They knew it meant more than seeking an outlet for a lumber industry. They knew it portended vassalage for Korea and ejection for themselves. Had they not made war on China ten years before because they could brook no rival in the peninsula? How could they tolerate the intrusion of Russia? Not merely were their interests in Korea at stake; every advance of Russia in that quarter, with Korea for vassal or ally, was a menace to the existence of Japan.
The Japanese lost no time in entering a protest. Russia resorted to the Fabian policy of delay as before; but she was dealing with a people whose pride and patriotism were not to be trifled with. After protracted negotiations Japan sent an ultimatum in which she proposed to recognise Manchuria as Russia's sphere of influence, provided Russia would recognise Japanese influence as paramount in Korea. For a fortnight or more the Czar vouchsafed no reply. Accustomed to being waited on, he put the paper in his pocket and kept it there while every train on the railway was pouring fresh troops into Manchuria. Without waiting for a formal reply, or deigning to discuss modifications intended to gain time, the Japanese heard the hour strike and cleared for action.
They are reproached for opening hostilities without first formally declaring war. In the age of chivalry a declaration of war was a solemn ceremony. A herald standing on the border read or recited his master's complaint and then hurled a spear across the boundary as an act of defiance. In later times nothing more than a formal announcement is required, except for the information of neutrals and the belligerents' own people. The rupture of relations leaves both parties free to choose their line of action. Japan, the newest of nations, naturally adopted the most modern method.
Recalling her ambassador on February 6, 1904, Japan was ready to strike simultaneous blows at two points. On February 8, Admiral Uriu challenged two Russian cruisers at Chemulpo to come out and fight, otherwise he would attack them in the harbour. Steaming out they fired the first shots of the war, and both were captured or destroyed. A little later on the same day Admiral Togo opened his broadsides on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, and resumed the attack the following morning. Without challenge or notification of any kind, his attack had the effect of a genuine surprise. The Russians, whether from confidence in their position or contempt for their enemy, were unprepared and replied feebly. They had seven battleships to Togo's six, but the big ships of Japan were supported by a flotilla of torpedo-boats which outnumbered those of Russia. These alert little craft did great execution. Creeping into the harbour while the bombardment kept the enemy occupied they sank two battleships and one armoured cruiser. Other Russian vessels were badly damaged; but, according to Togo's report, on the side of Japan not one vessel was incapacitated for actual service.
Land forces, fully equipped and waiting for this special service, commenced operations without delay and began to cut off communication from the land side while Togo's squadron corked up every inlet from the sea. Alexieff, whose title of viceroy revealed the intentions of Russia in regard to Manchuria, taking alarm at the prospect of a siege, escaped to Harbin near the Siberian frontier—a safer place for headquarters. To screen his flight he made unwarrantable use of an ambulance train of the Red Cross Society. Disagreeing with General Kuropatkin as to the plan of campaign, he resigned the command of the army in April, and Kuropatkin was promoted to the vacant place. Beaten in several engagements on the Liao-tung peninsula, the Russians began to fall back, followed by the Japanese under Field-Marshal Oyama; and the siege of the fortress was prosecuted with unremitting vigour.
By July the Japanese had secured possession of the outer line of forts, and, planting heavy guns on the top of a high hill, they were able to throw plunging shot into the bosom of the harbour. No longer safe at their inner anchorage, the Russian naval officers resolved to attempt to reach Vladivostok, where the combined squadrons might assume the offensive or at least be secure from blockade. Scarcely had they gained the open sea when (on August r0) the Japanese fell on them like a whirlwind and scattered their ships in all directions. A few reentered the harbour to await their doom; two or three found their way to Vladivostok; two sought refuge at the German port of Tsing-tao; two put into Shanghai; and one continued its flight as far south as Saigon.
One gunboat sought shelter at Chefoo, where I was passing my summer vacation. The Japanese, in hot pursuit, showed no more respect to the neutrality of China than they had shown to Korea. Boarding the fugitive vessel, they summoned the captain to surrender. He replied by seizing the Japanese officer in his arms and throwing himself into the sea. They were rescued ; and the Japanese then carried off the boat under the guns of a Chinese admiral. Of this incident in its main features I was an eye-witness. I may add that we were near enough to bear witness to the fact of the siege; for, in the words of Helen Sterling :
" We heard the boom of guns by day
The Chinese admiral, feeling the affront to the Dragon flag and fearing that he would be called to account, promptly tendered his resignation. He was told to keep his place; and, by way of consoling him for his inaction, the Minister of Marine added, "You are not to blame for not firing on the Japanese. They are fighting our battles—we can't do anything against them." So much\ for Chinese neutrality in theory and in practice.
Kuropatkin, like the Parthian, "most dreaded when in flight," renouncing any further attempt to break through the cordon which the Japanese had drawn around the doomed fortress, intrenched his forces in and around Liaoyang. His position was strong by nature, and he strengthened it by every device known to a military engineer; yet he was driven from it in a battle which lasted nine days.
The Japanese, though not slow to close around his outposts, were too cautious to deliver their main attack until they could be certain of success. The combat thickened till, on August 24, cannon thundered along a line of forty miles. Outflanked by his assailants, the Russian general, perceiving that he must secure his communications on the north or sustain a siege, abandoned his ground and fell back on Mukden.
In this, the greatest battle of the campaign thus far, 400,000 men were engaged, the Japanese, as usual, having a considerable majority. The loss of life was appalling. The Russian losses were reported at 22,000; and those of Japan could not have been less. Yet Liaoyang with all its horrors was only a prelude to a more obstinate conflict on a more extended arena.
Without hope of succour by land, and without a fleet to bring relief by sea, the Russians defended their fortress with the courage of despair. Ten years before this date the Japanese under Field-marshal Oyama had carried this same stronghold almost by assault. Taking it in the rear, a move which the Chinese thought so contrary to the rules of war that they had neglected their landward defences, they were masters of the place on the morning of the third day.
How different their reception on the present occasion! How changed the aspect! The hills, range after range, were now crowned with forts. Fifty thousand of Russia's best soldiers were behind those batteries, many of which were provided with casemates impenetrable to any ordinary projectile. General Stoessel, a man of science, courage and experience, was in command; and he held General Nogi with a force of sixty or seventy thousand at bay for eleven months. Prodigies of valour were performed on both sides, some of the more commanding positions being taken and retaken three or four times.
When, in September, the besiegers got possession of Wolf Hill, and with plunging shot smashed the remnant of the fleet, they offered generous terms to the defenders. General Stoessel declined the offer, resolving to emulate Thermopyke, or believing, perhaps, in the possibility of rescue. When, however, he saw the "203 Metre Hill" in their hands and knew his case-mates would soon be riddled by heavy shot, in sheer despair he was forced to capitulate. This was on the first day of the new year (1905). His force had been reduced to half its original numbers, and of these no fewer than 14,000 were in hospital.
General Stoessel has been censured for not holding out until the arrival of the armada; but what could the armada have done had it appeared in the offing? It certainly could not have penetrated the harbour, for in addition to fixed or floating mines it would have had to run the gauntlet of Togo's fleet and its doom would have been precipitated. One critic of distinction denounced Stoessel's surrender as "shameful"; but is it not a complete vindication that his enemies applaud his gallant defence, and that his own government was satisfied that he had done his duty.*
* Since writing this I have read the finding of the court-martial. It has the air of an attempt to diminish the national disgrace by throwing blame on a brave commander.
The Russian commander had marked out a new camp at Mukden, the chief city of the province and the cradle of the Manchu dynasty. There he was allowed once more to intrench himself. Was this because the Japanese were confident of their ability to compel him again to retire, or were they occupied with the task of filling up their depleted ranks? If the latter was the cause, the Russians were doing the same; but near to their base and with full command of the sea, the Japanese were able to do it more expeditiously than their enemy. Yet with all their facilities they were not ready to move on his works until winter imposed a suspension of hostilities.
On October 2 Kuropatkin published a boastful manifesto expressing confidence in the issue of the coming conflict—trusting no doubt to the help of the three generals, December, January, and February. Five months later, on March 8, 1905, he sent two telegrams to the Czar: the first said I am surrounded;" the second, a few hours later, conveyed the comforting intelligence " the army has escaped."
The Japanese, not choosing to encounter the rigours of a Manchurian winter, waited till the advent of spring. The air was mild and the streams spanned by bridges of ice. The manoeuvres need not be described here in detail. After more than ten days of continuous fighting on a line of battle nearly two hundred miles long, with scarcely less than a million of men engaged (Japanese in majority as before), the great Russian strategist broke camp and retired in good order. His army had escaped, but it had lost in killed and wounded 150,000. The losses of Japan amounted to 50,000.
The greatest battle of this latest war, the Battle of Mukden was in some respects the greatest in modern history. In length of line, in numbers engaged, and in the resulting casualties its figures are double those of Waterloo. Once more by masterly strategy a rout was converted into a retreat; and the Russian army withdrew to the northwest.
Weary of crawfish tactics the Czar appointed General Lineivitch to the chief command; and the ablest of the Russian generals was relieved of the duty of contriving ways of " escape." To cover the rear of a defeated force is always reckoned a post of honour; but it is not the sort of distinction that satisfies the ambition of a great commander.
By dint of efforts and sacrifices an enormous fleet was assembled for the relief of Port Arthur. It sailed from Cronstadt on August Il, 1905, leaving the Baltic seaports unprotected save by the benevolent neutrality of the German Kaiser, who granted passage through his ship canal, although he knew the fleet was going to wage war on one of his friends.
Part of the fleet proceeded via Suez, and part went round the Cape of Good Hope—to them a name of mockery. The ships moved leisurely, their commanders not doubting that Stoessel would be able to hold his ground; but scarcely had they reached a rendezvous which, by the favour of France, they had fixed in the waters adjacent to Madagascar, when they heard of the fall of Port Arthur. Of the annihilation of the fleet attached to the fortress, and of the destruction of a squadron coming to the rescue from the north they had previously learned. With what dismay did they now hear that the key of the ocean was lost. Almost at the same moment the last of Job's messengers arrived with the heavier tidings that Mukden, the key of the province, had been abandoned by a defeated army—stunning intelligence for a forlorn hope! Should they turn back or push ahead? Anxious question this for Admiral Rozhesvenski and his officers. Too late for Port Arthur, might they not reënforce Vladivostok and save it from a like fate? The signal to "steam ahead" was displayed on the flagship.
Slowly and painfully, its propellers clogged by seaweed, its keels overgrown with barnacles, the grand armada crossed the Indian Ocean and headed northward for the China Sea. On May 27, steering for the Korean channel, it fell into a snare which a blind man ought to have been able to foresee. Togo's fleet had the freedom of the seas. Where could it be, if not in that very channel? Yet on the Russians went:
"Unmindful of the whirlwind's sway
The struggle was short and decisive—finished, it is said, in less than one hour. While Togo's battle-ships, fresh and in good condition, poured shot and shell into the wayworn strangers, his torpedo-boats, greatly increased in number, glided almost unobservedly among the enemy and launched their thunderbolts with fatal effect. Battleships and cruisers went down with all on board. The Russian flagship was disabled, and the admiral, severely wounded, was transferred to the hold of a destroyer. Without signals' from their commander the vessels of the whole fleet fought or fled or perished separately; of 18,000 men, 1,000 escaped and 3,000 were made prisoners. What of the other 14,000 ?
"Ask of the winds that far around
The much vaunted armada was a thing of the past; and Tsushima or, as Togo officially named it, the Battle of the Sea of japan, has taken its place along with Trafalgar and Salamis.
Tired of a spectacle that had grown somewhat monotonous, the world was clamorous for peace. The belligerents, hitherto deaf to every suggestion of the kind, now accepted an invitation from President Roosevelt and appointed commissioners to arrange the terms of a treaty. They met in August, 1905, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and after a good deal of diplomatic fencing the sword was sheathed. In the treaty, since ratified, Russia acknowledges Japan's exceptional position in Korea, transfers to Japan her rights in Port Arthur and Liao-tung, and hands over to Japan her railways in Manchuria. Both parties agree to evacuate Manchuria within eighteen months.
Japan was obliged to waive her claim to a war indemnity and to allow Russia to retain half the island of Saghalien. Neither nation 'was satisfied with the terms, but both perceived that peace was preferable to the renewal of the struggle with all its horrors and uncertainties. For tendering the olive branch and smoothing the way for its acceptance, President Roosevelt merits the thanks of mankind. Besides other advantages Japan has assured her position as the leading power of the Orient; but the greatest gainer will be Russia, if her defeat in the field should lead her to the adoption of a liberal government at home.
" Peace hath her victories,
The Czar signified his satisfaction by making Witte the head of a reconstruction ministry and by conferring upon him the title of Count; and the Mikado showed his entire confidence in Baron Komura, notwithstanding some expressions of disappointment among the people, by assigning him the delicate task of negotiating a treaty with China.
Though the attitude of China had been as unheroic as would have been Menelaus' had the latter declared neutrality in the Trojan war, the issue has done much to rouse the spirit of the Chinese people. Other wars made them feel their weakness: this one begot a belief in their latent strength. When they witnessed a series of victories on land and sea gained by the Japanese over one of the most formidable powers of the West, they exclaimed, " If our neighbour can do this, why may we not do the same? We certainly can if, like them, we break with the effete systems of the past. Let us take these island heroes for our schoolmasters."
That war was one of the most momentous in the annals of history. It unsettled the balance of power, and opened a vista of untold possibilities for the yellow race.
Not slow to act on their new convictions, the Chinese have sent a small army of ten thousand students to Japan—of whom over eight thousand are there now, while they have imported from the island a host of instructors whose numbers can only be conjectured. The earliest to come were in the military sphere, to rehabilitate army and navy. Then came professors of every sort, engaged by public or private institutions to help on educational reform. Even in agriculture, on which they have hitherto prided themselves, the Chinese have put themselves under the teaching of the Japanese, while with good reason they have taken them as teachers in forestry also. Crowds of Japanese artificers in every handicraft find ready employment in China. Nor will it be long before pupils and apprentices in these home schools will assume the rôle of teacher, while Chinese graduates returning from Japan will be welcomed as professors of a higher grade. This Japanning process, as it is derisively styled, may be somewhat superficial; but it has the recommendation of cheapness and rapidity in comparison with depending on teachers from the West. It has, more-over, the immense advantage of racial kinship and example. Of course the few students who go to the fountain-heads of science—in the West—must when they return home take rank as China's leading teachers.
All this inclines one to conclude that a rapid transformation in this ancient empire is to be counted on.
The Chinese will soon do for themselves what they are now getting the Japanese to do for them. Japanese ideas will be permanent; but the direct agency of the Japanese people will certainly become less conspicuous than it now is.
To the honour of the Japanese Government, the world is bound to acknowledge that the island nation has not abused its victories to wring concessions from China. In fact to the eye of an unprejudiced observer it appears that in unreservedly restoring Manchuria Japan has. allowed an interested neutral to reap a disproportionate share of the profits.