Purple = Russian Empire,
brown = Japanese Empire and
yellow = Chinese EmpirePress to see Port Arthur and Sakhalin Island marked in black
The Russians entered the region in the Sino/China-Japanese War of 1894–5. Along with Germany and France, Russia was a part of the Triple Intervention that forced Japan to give up its demands for ports in S. Manchuria & Liaodong Peninsula after the war in China. After Russia leased the strategically important Port Arthur (see map) on the China coast in 1898 and expanded into Manchuria N.E China, it faced the increasing anger of Japan. So Russia took total control of Port Arthur, a warm water port with strategic & commercial significance. A Japanese coup in adjacent Korea was partly thwarted by the Russian presence there, and the 2 nations’ different interests appeared increasing likely to clash.
With the Russian fleet inside Port Arthur, and Japan in command of the China Sea, the Japanese then overran Korea and invaded Manchuria, gaining effective control of both. Tsar Nicholas II (reigned 1894-1917) was stunned by the attack, having been assured by his ministers that Japan would not fight. Why did Tokyo risk an all-out war with Russia, especially as a peaceful compromise already seemed possible?
In Ap 1904 ten Japanese destroyers suddenly fired torpedoes at Russian battleships in Port Arthur, alarming the Russians and badly damaging the Russia’s largest ships. The formal declaration of war was received in Moscow, shocking the Russian navy. Inevitably the two forces clashed in Korea and the Sea of Japan, with the Japanese victorious, after the 2 nations had endured years of disputes over Manchuria.
When Russia reneged on its agreement to withdraw troops from Manchuria, the Japanese fleet faced the Russia naval squadron at Port Arthur and the Japanese land forces cut the Russian army off from coming to Port Arthur’s aid. The Japanese 3rd Army with 150,000 men and 474 artillery guns laid siege to Port Arthur itself. The heavy death rate meant that in Oct, the Russian Baltic Fleet set sail to the Far East. But war casualties were appalling on both sides; at the Mukden Battle in Manchuria in Mar 1905, Russia lost 60,000 soldiers while the Japanese lost 41,000.
Port Arthur surrendered in Jan 1905, setting off angry protests in Russia against Tsarism. Immediately the Russian commander surrendered the garrison without consulting his officers, despite enough ammunition for its continued defence. The decisive naval Battle of Tsushima (May 1905) gave the Japanese the upper hand and forced Russia to the peace table. A Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic Sea around Africa and India, only to be half destroyed by the Japanese on arrival in N.E Asia. By 1905 the combination of these losses, and the huge economic cost of financing the war, encouraged both countries to search for peace.
The Japanese asked U.S Pres Roosevelt to negotiate a peace agreement, and representatives of both nations met in Portsmouth New Hamp in 1905. In order to maintain the balance of power and equal economic opportunity in Northeast China, Roosevelt preferred that the war end on terms that left both Russia and Japan a role to play. Though excited by the Japanese military victories, Roosevelt worried about the consequences to American interests if Japan managed to drive Russia out entirely.
The negotiations centred on access to ports and territories in Manchuria and Korea, control of Sakhalin Island (see the map), and the question of who was responsible for paying war costs. The chief aims of the Japanese negotiator included a] control in Korea and South Manchuria, and b] the negotiation of an indemnity and control of Sakhalin Island. The Russians wanted to c] maintain THEIR Sakhalin Island. d] They refused to pay a war costs indemnity to the Japanese, and e] hoped to maintain their fleet in the Pacific. The indemnity issue, and Sakhalin Island itself, were the major sticking points in the negotiation, although given its financial straits in 1905, Russia couldn’t pay an indemnity anyhow. When negotiations stalled, Roosevelt proposed that Russia buy back Northern Sakhalin from Japanese control. After long debate, Japan eventually agreed to take only Southern Sakhalin, without ANY payment. As a result, Pres. Roosevelt won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.
Japanese soldiers defending a trench in the Russo-Japanese War,
The Treaty ultimately gave Japan control of Korea and much of South Manchuria, including Port Arthur and the railway that connected the port with the region. 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, both had to compromise for peace. Still the Japanese public felt they had won the war, and they considered the compromise an insult. And the Russian people were also dissatisfied, angry about giving up half of Sakhalin.
In Sept 1905 Russia abandoned its expansionist policy in eastern Asia and the Russo-Japanese War ended. The final agreement affirmed the Japanese presence in south Manchuria and Korea, and ceded the southern half of the island of Sakhalin to Japan.
The 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth succeeded but what became of it? Throughout the peace talks, American public opinion had 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 territorial integrity of China, Americans supported them. The final Japanese decision to forgo an indemnity only served to strengthen U.S approval of Japan’s actions throughout the conflict. So Tokyo’s anti-treaty & anti-American protests after the treaty ratification shocked Americans.
Japan’s military achievements, along with the build-up of its naval forces, saw the birth of Japanese militarism, paving the way for new territorial expansion in the Asia-Pacific. Russia's humiliating defeat contributed to a growing unrest at home, concluding with the 1905 Russian Revolution.