Monday, November 11, 2019

Could Russia Have Defeated Japan in the Russo-Japanese War?

This essay will examine Russia's advantages and disadvantages pre-war, war and post-war that could have changed the course of history and enabled Russia to defeat Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. Russia, despite major advantages in resources, military personnel, naval forces, and strategic depth, lost the Russo-Japanese War to Japan, a rising power whose military strength and power were grossly underestimated. Why? What could Russia have done differently to defeat Japan in the war? Summarizing and analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of Russia’s poor leadership, lack of strategic planning against Japan, and logistical differences will help clarify what it did wrong and what it could have done to defeat Japan in 1904. Diplomatic and economic factors before and during the war In 1854, Japan had reopened her doors to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russian after 200 years of isolation from all Western powers, except the Netherlands (Koda 12). Of these powers, Britain and Russia had the strongest impact on the national security policy of the Japanese government. By the 1890s, given the growing competition among European Powers in Asia, Japan had begun to implement policies to increase the nation’s military and economic modernization. They recognized that failure to do so would lead to the â€Å"nation’s dominance or dismemberment† by foreigners (Francis 1). Between 1888 and 1904, the Russian Empire’s economy was booming. As the financial heath of the government improved, it can be expected that the Minister of War would be allowed to share in this bounty. The Ministry was able to fund two discrete rearmament programs: the acquisition of magazine rifles and the introduction of the first quick-firing field artillery piece (Fuller 363). Both programs helped enhance and put Russia at an advantage in military readiness and innovation compared to other powers within the region. In 1894, Russia had a new Tsar in Nicholas II, who was â€Å"young, dreamy and ambitious†Ã¢â‚¬ ¦ and noted by biographers as â€Å"a weak man and easily led† (Fuller 370). Another important figure to Russia’s government was Count S. Iu. Witte. Witte, the Minister of Finance, 1892-1903, rapidly became one of Nicholas’s most influential ministers in the early part of his regime as Tsar (Fuller 370). Witte was the prime mover of the Trans-Siberian and Chinese Eastern railroads, which allowed Russia to become a monopoly over resources and markets of Manchuria (Fuller 370). In March 1900, War Minister Kuropatkin delivered a speech in which he summarized the ways in which Russia had used its' military power in the past two hundred years and a series of predictions on upcoming challenges the nation would have to face. He argued that Russia â€Å"neither needed nor desired war with any of the other Great Powers; it simply had nothing to gain by it† (Fuller 377). Yet, Russia was not a satisfied Power and in a report to the Tsar, Kuropatkin had to endorse the continued economic exploitation of Manchuria and the expansion of Russia influence in the East (Fuller 378). Moreover, Russia had concluded an alliance with China against Japan and, in the process provided the finance China needed in exchange for railway and industrial monopolies and won rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Chinese-held Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok, thus gaining control of an important strip of Manchurian territory (Warner 113). Unfortunately, the unfinished state of the Trans-Siberian railroad in 1904, logistical problems, and heavy costs meant only about 100,000 Russian troops and supporting units had been deployed to the Far East. However, this continuous crash collusion over the â€Å"spheres of influence† in Manchuria, Port Arthur, and finally in 1903 when Russia developed an economic interest in Korea further exasperated Japan (Koda 16). Start of the War The Russo-Japanese War took place from February 1904 to September 1905; it was a war that originated out of rival imperial ambitions of the Japanese and Russian Empires over Manchuria, Port Arthur, and Korea. The Russians had been pursuing a course of steady aggression and contrary to what Japan considered her â€Å"vital interests and national honor† (Mahan 172). The Russians had countless chances to gain an advantage and a better diplomatic position over Japan. After negotiations back and forth concerning â€Å"spheres of interest† between the two nations were not met and in Japanese eyes were ignored due to the arrogance of the Tsar; Japan severed diplomatic relations on 6 February 1904 (Answer. com). Late at night on the 8th of February, a force of Japanese torpedo boats entered into Port Arthur. Through the dense fog, they launched a surprise attack that not only surprised the Russian naval squadron, but also surprised the world. Only one ship, the Novik, was not caught entirely napping and was able to give chase (Warner 17). Three of Russia’s biggest ships took severe hits: the cruiser Pallada, Retvizan and Tsarevitch (Warner 17). Russia was shocked and definitely not prepared! Although gunfire stirred some in the evening, many knew nothing of the attack until the next morning. Some had heard and assumed that the fleet had been carrying out exercises and few people â€Å"expected that the first attack by Japanese- or any attack at all- would take place in Port Arthur† (Warner 17). Crafting a War Plan The Commander of Russia’s Far Eastern Armies, General Kuropatkin was tasked with developing Russia’s war plan; his idea was to deny Japan an early victory by alternating tenacious holding actions and strategic withdrawals in order to gain the time needed to bring thousands of additional troops from European Russia (Fuller 379). â€Å"Inso far as possible,† he wrote, â€Å"our forces must avoid decisive engagements in order to escape being defeated in detail prior to concentration of forces sufficient for the defeat of the Japanese† (Fuller 400). He expected the Japanese to invade Manchuria, they did; he anticipated that the Japanese would attack Port Arthur, they did; so, his plan was absolutely accurate and unquestionably foreboded the events that were about to unfold in this Russian nightmare. But no matter how intelligent or administratively talented Kuropatkin may have been, he committed the gravest of errors by underestimating his enemy. The Japanese army was highly motivated and trained and ready to implement their war plan. In an attempt to avoid war, Japan presented Russia with a treaty that would be relatively fair to both sides. Russia, to the surprise of no one, declined the terms and Japan was left with no choice other than to declare war. In July 1903 at pre-war negotiations, the Japanese Minister in St. Petersburg as instructed to present Russian Minister, Roman Rosen, with his country’s views and desires. After the proposal, Russia provide a counter-proposal and Japan provided another proposal by which â€Å"Manchuria would be outside the Japanese sphere of influence and, reciprocally, Korea outside Russia’s† (Answers. com). One month later on 4 February when no formal reply had been received, Japan severed ties and went about achieving everything that they asked for at the pre-negotiations. According to Karl von Clausewitz, a renowned theorist of war, two parties need to want peace for a war to be terminated and both sides must be able to overcome internal and external oppositions to end the war. Because of Russian leaders’ incompetence, arrogance, and inability to respond promptly and compromise negotiations, Japan’s pre-war requests and Kuropatkin’s predictions of Japan’s war strategy were developing in what would be known in history as the Russo-Japanese War. Elements of the Land Campaign At the outbreak of the war, Russia had the world's largest standing army, but most of it was in Europe. The Japanese knew that Russia could not fully concentrate its’ army in the Far East because â€Å"it had to keep some forces in western Russia as a counter to Turkish, German, and Austrian forces† (Koda 22). Russia was not ready for the war with Japan, and the Japanese knew it. All Japan had to do was concentrate its’ forces in Manchuria and match the strength of Russian forces there. For the Japanese to establish superiority, they had to overcome their handicaps: shortage of strategic reserves, an insufficient stockpile of ammunition, and poor field heavy artillery (Koda 23). In order to overcome these handicaps, Japan had a well thought out operational plan and effective tactics on the battlefield, which yielded perfectly to the warfare of Manchurian plain. In my opinion, all Russia had to do was delay Japanese forces while they built up their strength in the west and bring forces south from the Chinese Eastern railway. Without the Trans-Siberian Railway to assist in reinforcing Russian forces, Russia would be left without â€Å"a real plan of campaign† (Warner 319). Therefore, the longer the war went on, the more likely an eventual Russian victory would have been in a battle of industrial attrition due to the continuing flow of reinforcements along the railway. Synchronizing ground and naval efforts Japan had to deliver a severe blow before Russia had time to prepare and execute whatever war plan that they may have established. In the words of Admiral â€Å"Bull† Halsey, Japan needed to â€Å"Hit hard, hit fast and hit often. † In March the Japanese landed an army in Korea that quickly overran that country. In May another Japanese army landed on the Liaotung Peninsula, and on May 26 it cut off the Port Arthur garrison from the main body of Russian forces in Manchuria. Russia needed to stop playing on the defense and start being on the offensive. With the help of reinforcements received via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Russia continued attacks, but it proved indecisive owing to poor military leadership. An example of the Russian’s impotence in leadership occurred at the siege of Port Arthur. After believing that the purpose of defending the city was lost due to the defeat of the fleet, Major General Stessel decided to surrender his post without consulting the other military staff present, or the Tsar and the military command. All disagreed with his decision because the garrison was still well stocked and had months of food and ammunition. In 1908, Stessel was convicted by a court-martial and sentenced to death, though later pardoned for his offenses (Answer. om). More aggressive naval power The Japanese Combined Fleet was slightly superior to the Russian Pacific Fleet (Koda 22). Japan was at an advantage to Russia, because Russia’s fleet had to be divided in two forces, one at Port Arthur and the other at Vladivostok (Koda 22). The fleets at Port Arthur and Vladivostok were also smaller and less ready, which left Russia's land and naval forces outnumbered at the start of the war. Japan’s strategy was to engage each force separately and prevent any Russian reinforcements. Japan’s Combined Fleet had to destroy the Pacific Fleet before the arrival of reinforcements and it was necessary for Admiral Togo â€Å"to preserve his strength, to ensure that he had a fleet capable of destroying the reinforcements when they arrived† (Koda 23). The Russian fleet in Port Arthur presented a menace to the sea lines of communication for Japan and was a determining factor of the war. The attack, although successful, was not executed as planned. It continued long enough to afford Russia the opportunity to bring into play her other naval forces from the west and if other circumstance would not have accorded, may have caused Japan their victory. For example, the Baltic Fleet was on its last leg of its 18,000 nautical mile journey to Vladivostok, when they were spotted by the Japanese Combined Fleet. The Baltic Fleet had been successfully traveling at night to avoid discovery. Unfortunately, one of her hospital ships exposed a light, which was sighted by a Japanese ship. The ship reported the sighting to Admiral Togo, who was able to position his fleet and engage in the battle of Tsushima. The Russian fleet was annihilated at Tsushima. If the Russian fleet would have positioned their cruisers, designed for speed and endurance, at Vladivostok, Russia would have had a better chance at counter-attacking Japan’s fleet. Unlike Port Arthur with only one way in and out, Vladivostok had two exits, to the Japan Sea and to the east coast of the islands by way of the Tsugaru Straits. The Japanese vessels out numbered the Russian vessels and they probably would have still picked off the Russian vessels one by one, but positioning the cruisers at another port would have allowed for continued freedom of commerce. Although this is an indirect effect to the war, it directly affected the already unstable economy and a growing rebellious status to war efforts in Russia. One of the most important things to remember is not just the multiple locations of the Russia fleets, but that they were divided into fractions individually smaller than those of a possible enemy. If the Russian divisions at Port Arthur, Vladivostok, and in the European ports of Russia would have been united, they would have outweighed the Japanese fleet; hence causing the Japanese fleet to re-evaluate their plan and possibly changing the course of the war. Additionally, Admiral Makarov, Commander of the Baltic Fleet, suggested that more ships should assist the Port Arthur and Vladivostok, but with his death a conference of the Higher Naval Board with the Tsar presiding was needed. For the next three months, the new commander, Admiral Rozhdestvenski, struggled with â€Å"the inevitable tangle of Russian red tape† and prepared his fleet for the long journey and they set sail in October of 1904 (Warner 402). The Baltic fleet should have been sent east the instant the Japanese declared war and would have arrived in ample time to assist and been able to provide much needed reinforcements and a more aggressive naval power. Conclusion Despite Russia’s major advantages in resources, military personnel, naval forces, and strategic depth, they lost to an up and coming power, Japan. Furthermore, they could have negotiated out of starting a war, and never have been put in a situation that caused undue hardship on their ill-prepared naval and land forces. If it wasn’t for poor leadership, lack of strategic planning, and logistical differences, Russia could have defeated Japan in the Russo-Japanese War.

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