Could Russia have defeated Japan in the Russo-Japanese War?
If not, why not? If so, why and how?
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 “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 “young, dreamy and ambitious”… and noted by biographers as “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 “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 “spheres of influence” in Manchuria, Port Arthur, and finally in 1903 when Russia developed an economic...
Bibliography: Fuller, William C., Sr. Strategy and Power in Russia, 1600-1914. New York: Free Press, 1992.
Mahan, Alfred Thayer. “Retrospect upon the War between Japan and Russia,” in Naval Administration and Warfare. Boston: Little Brown, 1918.
Warner, Denis and Peggy. The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. New York: Charterhouse, 1974.
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