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Russo-Japanese War: Siege of Port Arthur

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Russo-Japanese War: Siege of Port Arthur

A Japanese 11-inch siege gun fires on Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War.

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Conflict:

The siege of Port Arthur was one of the key battles of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Dates:

Japanese troops first invested the city on July 30, 1904, and forced its surrender on January 2, 1905.

Armies & Commanders:

Russians

  • Major General Anatoly Stoessel
  • 50,000 men
  • 506 guns

Japanese

  • General Nogi Maresuke
  • 90,000-150,000 men
  • 474 guns

Battle Summary:

During the first year of the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese troops landed in Korea and Manchuria and began pushing the Russians back towards their base at Port Arthur. Located on the Liaodong Peninsula, Port Arthur was Russia's sole warm water port in the Pacific and source irritation to the Japanese who had been promised the city in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. Lacking the resources in the region to fight on the offensive, the Russians repeatedly dug in and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese while waiting for reinforcements to come across the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The campaign saw the introduction of many weapons that would shape the modern battlefield such as the machine gun, barbed wire, rapid-firing howitzers, bolt-action magazine rifles, and mines. Forced back to Port Arthur, the Russian commander, Major General Anatoly Stoessel, prepared to defend the city. Occupied by the Russians in 1897, Port Arthur had been heavily fortified in the intervening years. Though some of the defenses were still incomplete, they were much more formidable than when the city had been attacked during the First Sino-Japanese War a decade earlier.

Assigned to take the city was General Nogi Maresuke and the Japanese Third Army. Outnumbering Stoessel's 50,000-man garrison almost 2-to-1 at the start of the battle, Nogi believed he could take the city quickly. This was largely due to his prior experience as the Japanese commander who had seized Port Arthur during the First Sino-Japanese War. Advancing on the city, Nogi began shelling the Russian lines on August 7, 1904. This was supported by the Japanese fleet, under Admiral Togo Heihachiro, which had blockaded the First Russian Pacific Squadron in the harbor.

Over the next two days, Nogi launched a series of frontal assaults to capture the advanced Russian positions on Big and Little Orphan Hills. Though they were forced to withdraw, the Russians, supported by naval gunfire, inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. With the fall of these hills, Tsar Nicholas II ordered the naval squadron to break out and head for Vladivostok. This was attempted, but the warships were defeated at the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10, and forced to return to Port Arthur. After fully encircling the city, Nogi planned for an assault up Wantai Ravine.

If successful, it would allow the attackers to drive directly into the city. Attacking all along the Russian lines on August 19, the main assault came against 174 Meter Hill. Defended by the 5th and 13th East Siberian Regiments under Colonel Nikolai A. Tretyakov, the hill became the focus of the battle. After over two days of bitter fighting, and with no reinforcements coming, Tretyakov was forced to pull back. The attacks had cost Nogi over 16,000 casualties. Unable to penetrate the Russian defenses, Nogi settled in for a siege, despite orders to take the city quickly.

Japanese troops began building trenches and digging tunnels under the Russian lines. To bombard the city, large 11-inch Krupp howitzers were brought in which fired 500-lb. shells. Slowly advancing, Japanese troops took the Waterworks Redoubt on September 19, and launched a major attack against Temple Redoubt and 203 Meter Hill. While the redoubt fell, the hill held out against all assaults. Another attack on the hill was ordered on October 29, in celebration of the emperor's birthday. It failed with over 3,600 killed.

As 203 Meter Hill became the new focus of the battle, Stoessel delegated its defense to Colonel Tretyakov. Under extreme pressure from Tokyo, Nogi recommenced the assault on November 26, with frontal attacks on 203 Meter Hill and the adjacent Akasakayama Hill. Repeatedly beaten back, the attack continued for the next nine days until the Japanese finally overran the Russian positions. The capture of the hill proved critical as Nogi shifted some of his 11-inch Krupps to its summit. From this position, they were able to hit and sink the Russian warships in the harbor.

With the destruction of the fleet, Stoessel and his commanders met on December 8 to discuss whether to continue holding out. After some hesitation, they decided to carry on with the battle. Over the next few days, the Russian position slowly eroded with the loss of Fort Chikuan (Dec. 18), Fort Erhlung (Dec. 28), and Fort Sungshu (Dec. 31). On New Year's Day, the Wantai Ravine finally fell to the Japanese. Without consulting many of his senior commanders, Stoessel, who believed the situation hopeless, surrendered Port Arthur to the Japanese on January 2, 1905.

Aftermath

The Siege of Port Arthur cost the Japanese 57,780 killed, wounded, and missing. The Russians lost 31,306 killed, wounded, and missing. The remaining 23,491 Russian troops were taken into captivity, while their 868 officers were given the choice of joining their men or accepting a parole. After occupying the city, Nogi was surprised to find large stores of food and ammunition, which implied that Stoessel surrendered prematurely. Upon returning to St. Petersburg, Stoessel was court-martialed and sentenced to death. This was revised to imprisonment and he later returned to service during World War I. After leaving a garrison at Port Arthur, Nogi and the Third Army proceeded north and took part in the Battle of Mukden. Though triumphant at Port Arthur, the victory had come at a heavy price and foreshadowed the carnage of the Western Front a decade later.

Selected Sources

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  5. Battles & Wars: 1900s
  6. Siege of Port Arthur - Russo-Japanese War Siege of Port Arthur

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