Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Japan's crushing of Russia barely noticed 100 years on

UNDER THE BRIDGE The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 was the overture for history's bloodiest century, yet is barely remembered where it took place -- in China


As Asia celebrates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Japan's earth-shaking defeat of Russian armies on Chinese soil 100 years ago has all but been forgotten.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 marked Japan's rise as a global power and was the first time an Asian country had defeated a Western nation since the Mongol Genghis Khan fought his way to Europe.

The conflict also unleashed for the first time the brutal killing machines that marked the two World Wars of the 20th century.

"Japan's victory shocked the world not only because it defeated Russia, but also because of its naval and siege tactics," said Bill Madison, founder of the US-based Russo-Japanese War Research Society.

"Japan's victory showed that its armies were on a par with other imperialist powers in the carving up of China."

Following the war, Japan occupied Korea and by 1931 invaded Manchuria, attacked south of China's Great Wall in 1937 and then extended its invasion throughout Asia during World War II.

Despite its defeat in World War II, Japan continued its dramatic rise, albeit economically and largely through its Cold War alliance with the United States.

But it is its defeat of Russia that has long been a reminder of what a rising power can do if it can equip its military with state-of-the-art weapons.

Japan's fighting spirit and the willingness of its soldiers to die for the nation was in full evidence in the 1904-05 war, suffering some 190,000 casualties despite winning every battle on land and sea.

The war was the first "modern war" where big bore guns and automatic weapons showed to terrible effect that traditional mass infantry attacks against entrenched positions were obsolete, Madison said.

"This was the first time you saw trench warfare, the weapons were the most lethal ever, machine guns, rapid-fire howitzers, 280mm artillery shells, armoured ships, barbed wire, all these were used to devastating effect," Madison said.

"In naval battle, this war proved that close-in fighting would also lead to massive casualties and destruction."

The war began in February 1904 with a surprise Japanese attack on Russian naval forces at Port Arthur, a tactic Japan had used successfully in the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese war and would again use against the United States at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Lushun, then known as Port Arthur, rests at the tip of China's Liaodong peninsula and was occupied in 1897 by Russia, which needed a warm water port for its Pacific Fleet.

After blockading the fleet, Japan began landing its soldiers in Korea and further up the Liaodong peninsula routing Russian resistance in the battles of Yalu, Nanshan and Dalian and eventually laying a land siege to Port Arthur for 244 days.

During the siege, Japanese infantry and cannon incessantly attacked the 22 forts that Russia had built on surrounding hill tops despite a hail of Russian shells and bullets.

Japan lost nearly 58,000 soldiers, as wave after wave of attacks assaulted the fortified positions. Some 31,000 Russian soldiers met their deaths in the battle, considered one of the earliest instances of trench warfare.

"If the lessons of Port Arthur would have been better learned by military commanders in Europe then maybe the trench tactics of World War I could have been avoided," Madison said.

After taking the hills around Port Arthur, Japanese guns further destroyed the remaining Russian ships in the harbour and forced a surrender in January 1905.

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