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15: Russia in the Field of War

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The Outcome of Slavic Ambition

Among the most interesting phases of nineteenth-century history is that of the conflict between Russia and Turkey, a struggle for dominion that came down from the preceding centuries, and still seems only temporarily laid aside for final settlement in the years to come. In the eighteenth century the Turks proved quite able to hold their own against all the power of Russia and all the armies of Catharine the great, and they entered the nineteenth century with their ancient dominion largely intact. But they were declining in strength while Russia was growing, and long before 1900 the empire of the Sultan would have become the prey of the Czar had not the other Powers of Europe come to the rescue. The Czar Nicholas designated the Sultan as the "sick man" of Europe, and such he and his empire had truly become.

Of the various wars which Russia waged against Turkey, the first of modern historical importance was that of 1854-55, known as the "Crimean War" and made notable by the fact that Britain, France and Sardinia joined the Turks in their struggle against the Muscovite armies.

The Western powers had long been fearful of letting Constantinople fall into the hands of Russia. They had interfered to prevent this after the victory of Russia in 1829, when Adrianople was taken and Constantinople threatened. War broke out again in 1853 and Russia seemed likely to triumph. This led Britain and France to declare war in 1854. Armies were sent by them to the Black Sea, and in September a strong force was landed on the coast of the Crimean peninsula.


Their purpose in this movement was the capture of the fortress of Sebastopol and the destruction of the Russian fleet in its harbor. But the Muscovite defense was vigorous and the stronghold proved difficult to take. Battles took place on the banks of the Alma and at Balaclava, in both of which the allies were successful, the latter being made notable by the heroic British "Charge of the Light Brigade," which has since been famous in song and story.

But the fortress held out during the succeeding winter and until late in 1855, despite the vigor of the siege. After the middle of August the assault became almost incessant, cannon balls dropping like an unceasing storm of hail in forts and streets. On the 5th of September began a terrific bombardment, continuing day and night for three days, and sweeping down more than 5,000 Russians on the ramparts. At length, as the hour of noon struck on September 8th, the attack, of which this play of artillery was the prelude, began, the French assailing the Malakoff, the British the Redan, these being the most formidable of the defensive works of the town. The French assault was successful and Sebastopol became untenable. That night the Russians blew up their remaining forts, sunk their ships of war, and marched out of the town, leaving it as the prize of victory to the allies.

This success put an end to the war. Britain, Sardinia, which had joined the coalition, and Turkey were eager to continue it, but Napoleon III had reasons of his own for withdrawing his troops, and the other allies found it desirable to consent to a treaty of peace. Russia was far from being conquered, but its finances were in a deplorable state, and the Czar proved ready to make terms with his enemies.

This did not end Russia's efforts to win Constantinople. A new war broke out in 1877, in which none of the Powers came to the aid of the Turks, and their dominion in Europe would have been brought to an end but for the jealousy or these Powers, which forced the conquering Muscovites to withdraw from the hoped-for prize. The events of this war are given in the following chapter, as part of the history of the Balkan States.


Russia, though so often checked in the effort to capture Constantinople, and with it win an opening to the Mediterranean, was long more successful in another field of ambition, that of Asiatic conquest and the expansion of empire over the great Eastern continent. Here it had gradually won a vast stretch of territory, including the immense area of Siberia and the realms of the Caucasus and Turkestan. The result of the Boxer outbreak in China in 1900 increased the Russian dominion in Asia, giving the empire a hold upon Manchuria, with control of the fine seaport of Port Arthur. It began to appear as if this whole region would become Russian territory, possibly including Korea and Japan.


The danger of this roused Japan to action. When it became evident that the Russians had no intention to respect the rights of China in Manchuria, and showed signs of an aggressive movement against Korea, the island empire lost no time in making war. In February, 1904, Japan withdrew her minister from St. Petersburg and three days later, without the formality of a declaration of war, attacked the Russian fleets at Chemulpo and Port Arthur and landed troops in Korea.

The Japanese quickly proved themselves able warriors. On April 13th admiral Togo drove back the Russian fleet, its flagship, the PETROPAVLOVSK, striking a mine and sinking with its crew and admiral. On land the Russians were defeated at the battle of the Yalu, Manchuria was invaded and Port Arthur invested and bombarded. Battles followed in rapid succession, with victory for the island warriors in every instance. General Oka won a fierce battle on the heights of Nan-Shan and captured the Russian port of Dalny. General Kuroki fought his way northward to Liao-yang, where was fought one of the great battles of the war, lasting seven days and ending in the retreat of the Russians.

The next field of action was at Mukden, the Manchurian capital, when the armies met in September, and remained face to face until March of the following year. It was not until then that a decisive action took place, the armies numbering nearly 500,000 each. The struggle was long continued, but finally ended in a second retreat of the Russians. There were no further engagements of importance in this quarter, though the armies remained face to face for months in a long line south of Harbin.


Meanwhile Port Arthur had become closely invested. One by one the hills surrounding the harbor were taken by the Japanese, after stubborn resistance. Big siege guns were dragged up and began to batter the town and the ships. On August 16th, General Stoessel, commander at Port Arthur, having refused to surrender, a grand assault was ordered by Nogi. It proved unsuccessful, while the assailants lost 14,000 men. The bombardment continued, the buildings and ships suffering severely. Finally tunnels were cut through the solid rock and on December 20th the principal stronghold in the east was carried by storm. Other forts were soon taken and on January 2, 1905, the place was surrendered, the Japanese obtaining 40,000 prisoners, 59 forts, about 550 guns, and other munitions. The fleet captured consisted of four damaged battleships, two damaged cruisers and a considerable number of small craft. These ships had been effectually blockaded in the harbor, lying practically inactive during the siege.


Russia, finding its naval force in the Pacific put out of commission through the activity of the doughty Togo, had meanwhile despatched another fleet from the Baltic, comprising nearly forty vessels in all. These made their way through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean and on May 27, 1905, entered the Strait of Tsushuma, between Korea and Japan. Hitherto not a hostile vessel had been seen. Togo had held his fleet in ambush, while keeping scouts on the lookout for the coming Russians.

Suddenly the Russians found themselves surrounded by a long line of enemies, which had suddenly appeared in their front. The attack was furious and irresistible; the defense weak and ineffective. Night was at hand, but before it came five Russian warships had gone to the bottom. A torpedo attack was made during the night and the general engagement resumed next morning. When a halt was called, Admiral Togo had sunk, disabled or captured eight battleships, nine cruisers, three coast-defense ships, and a large number of other craft, the great Russian fleet being practically a total loss, while Togo had lost only three torpedo boats and 650 men. The losses in men by the Russians was 4,000 killed, and 7,200 prisoners taken. It was a naval victory which for completeness has rarely been equalled in history.

Russia, beaten on land and sea, was by this time ready to give up the struggle, and readily accepted President Roosevelt's suggestion to hold a peace convention in the United States. The terms of the treaty were very favorable to Russia, all things considered; but the power of Japan had been strained to the utmost, and that Power felt little inclined to put obstacles in the way. The island of Sakhalin was divided between them, both armies evacuated Manchuria, leaving it to the Chinese, and Port Arthur and Dalny were transferred to Japan.

Yet though Japan received no indemnity and little in the way of material acquisitions of any kind, she came out of the war with a prestige that no one was likely to question, and has since ranked among the great Powers of the world. And she has added considerably to her territory by the annexation of Korea, in which there was no one to question her right.

Since the events here described Japan has entered the concert of the nations by an alliance with Great Britain for mutual defense in case of either Power being attacked in the East. And this treaty bore fruit in 1914 when Japan, as an ally of Great Britain, took part in the war between the great Powers of Europe by attacking Kiaochou, a district and fortress held by Germany on the northern coast of China.

This was in accordance with the Japanese theory of "the Orient for the Orientals" and its dislike of European aggression upon the Asiatic coast. Japan went farther than this, taking possession of all the islands held by Germany in the North Pacific - afterwards handed over to Australia for administration - those in the South Pacific being at the same time occupied by expeditions from New Zealand and Australia. In this way the great European war was to a minor extent transferred to the waters and lands of the Far East.

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