At the turn of the century, Russia was the largest nation in Europe, both in terms of population and land area. It also had a powerful army and navy, which in addition to its vast territory made it almost unthinkable for any nation to attempt to wage a war against it. Why then had Russia not only been defeated, but suffered tremendous and uneven casualties compared to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War? This loss, which later had dire consequences for the Russian empire, occurred because of inadequate preparation, poor leadership, and simply bad luck which plagued the Russian military forces in the Pacific.
Prior to the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, “Russia held a position inferior to that of China in the Far East,” it’s efforts characterized by “haphazard measures of colonization, unstable means of communication and passive diplomacy.”<<1
Malozemoff, Andrew. Russian Far Eastern Policy 1881-1904. (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1958), 19.>> However, at its completion, Russia had a means of deploying a significant military force in Manchuria. Manchuria, of course, was home to the nearly ice-free Port Arthur; Russia’s other naval ports were frozen for a large part of the year. In addition, “control of Port Arthur gives [Russia] a large measure of control over the water approaches to Peking.”<<2
Asakawa, K. The Russo-Japanese Conflict. (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1970), 49.>> Moreover, by controlling the southern coast of Korea, “Russia would not merely possess a truly ice-free, and the best naval port to be found in East Asia, but also at last feel secure in Manchuria and complete her Far Eastern design of absorbing Korea and China and pressing down toward India.”<<3
Ibid, 50>> At the same time, “for Japanese, too, Port Arthur possessed importance beyond its strategic significance, fought for and won as it had been by their troops in the Chinese War and then wrestled from them by the Europeans.”<<4
Walder, David. The Short Victorious War. (London: Hutchinson & Co Ltd, 1973), 89-90.>> The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was used by Russia “as a welcome pretext for taking outright possession of most of Manchuria, as a preliminary to turning it into an additional Russian province.” <<5
Busch, Noel F. The Emperor’s Sword. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1969), 59.>>
In many ways, Russia was inadequately prepared for the upcoming conflict. At the time of the conflict, Russia had an enormous army of over a million troops, with another 2.5 million in reserve.<<6
Walder, 78>> However, despite the apparent numerical advantage, other factors were at play. First and foremost, the total distance of the rail link between Moscow and Liatong Peninsula was nearly 5,500 miles. <<7
Walder, 80>> Moreover, the railway was not entirely finished...