Russia: Early 20th Century Expansion

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Early in the 20th Century, Russia began a continued process of expansionism that relied on its military, economic, and political superiority to conquer Korea and Manchuria. Hoping to establish a warm water seaport and further increase the land needed for the Trans-Siberian railroad, Russia moved its army and navy further east.[1] This growth did not go unnoticed. Russian expansionism was met with resistance by the smaller world power of Japan. The Japanese saw Russia territorial conquests as encroaching on their sphere of influence and believed it necessary to take preventive measures against such a power.[2] Japan was originally believed to be of no imminent threat by Vise Admiral Alexeieff as well as the majority of Russian population. Japan soon proved to be a formidable force at the Battle of Port Arthur and eventually won the war against the Russians. This was accomplished because of Japanese popular support, economic superiority, and better military strategic planning. This was far different from Russia where the economy was faltering, the people were rebelling against the tsarist regime, and the military was overconfident. Japan’s surprise attack took advantage of Russian military arrogance, allowing a smaller army to overpower the powerful tsarist controlled army of Russia.

In 1903, Japanese Minister Kirino contacted Czar Nicholas 2 to try and stop Russian expansion in East Asia implying that Russia was imposing on their sphere of influence.[3] This was after the Russians had signed a treaty with China allowing the Russian occupation of Manchuria and never stopped gaining more territory.[4] Japan, with its growing economy, sought to expand into the rich country of Korea and eventually conquered the country in the Sino-Japanese war.[5] Russia also hoped to strengthen its power in East Asia by building the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 1891 and took over a lot of Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion.[6] As a compromise, on January 13, 1904, Japan stated that it would allow Russia to occupy Manchuria if Russia would not impose on Japanese control of Korea.[7] Because Russia did not respond in time, Japanese forces surprise attacked Port Arthur and began the Russo-Japanese war.[8]

While Russia controlled far more manpower, inadequate planning on part of the Russian General Staff prevented them from effectively utilizing this advantage. At the time of the Russo-Japanese war, Russia had a force of over a million men with the ability to possibly deploy 4,500,000 soldiers through the activation of their reserves.[9] This far outnumbered the Japanese active force of 180,000 men with reserves only causing the total force to number around 850,000 soldiers.[10] One of the problems which existed was the underestimation of Russian forces needed to defeat the Japanese. Key leaders failed to effectively allocate Russian forces.[11] A majority of Russian troops were stationed in the West in order to prevent any attack from possible aggressive European countries. While they did have 80,000 troops and supplies already in Manchuria, they did not calculate the surprise attack from Japanese.[12] Without a modern navy, Russia was unable to defend itself from the Japanese navy, which was able to destroy much of the Russian fleet including the Poltava, Diana, Askold, and the Novik.[13] While the Japanese failed to defeat the fleet at Port Arthur, they were able to set the tone for the rest of the war on how they could prove an equal if not superior force to be reckoned with.

Reacting to this surprise attack, Russian leaders quickly tried to mobilize enough troops and adequate weaponry to combat this attack from the Japanese navy. An inability to quickly mobilize forces continued to beset the Russian’s with problems, now in transportation. The Trans-Siberian railroad proved to be extremely inadequate as it was only a single track rail line.[14] This allowed only one train to travel the distance which separated major Russian cities...
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