This Day In History: The Japanese Capture Port Arthur (1904)

On this day in history, there was a turning point in the Russo-Japanese war. On this day in 1904  the Japanese Imperial Army and navy capture the major Russian base of Port Arthur. This base was one of Imperial Russia’s most important naval bases in the Far East. Port Arthur was located on the Liaodong Peninsula in China.  The capture of the base was one the Japanese main objectives and its fall was seen as a great victory. They had long feared that the Russians could use the base to launch an attack on the Japanese mainland. Tensions had been developing between Russia and Japan since the turn of the twentieth century. Russia troops had joined western and Japanese forces in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China. When the rebellion had been defeated, Russia had refused to withdraw its forces from Northern China. Japan was very worried by this and it seemed that the Tsar wanted to expand into China and this was a potential threat to Japan. The Russian Tsar used various excuses to stay in Northern China. Japan eventually decided that they had to oust Russia from China. On February, the 4th the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur.  The Japanese navy attacked Russian ships moored in Port Arthur and then they besieged the port and city. This was to start the Russo-Japanese War.  The Russians resisted the Japanese fiercely and despite being outnumbered they managed to hold out for almost a year.

The Tsar was outraged by what he saw as Japanese treachery and order all the resources of the Russian Empire to be used in a war against the Empire of Japan.

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A Russian ship torpedoed during the initial Japanese attack on Port Arthur (1904)

Port Arthur or Lushan as it was called by the Chinese was a very important port. It had been occupied by the British during the Second Opium War and was later used by China. Japan had briefly occupied the port in the First Sino-Japanese War.  Later the Chinese leased it to Russia who renamed it, Port Arthur.  The Japanese later defeated the Russian army at the Battle of Mukden and the destroyed a Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsunami.  The Russian failure and growing frustration with the Tsar led to a Revolution in St Petersburg and elsewhere. Eventually, the Tsar was forced to negotiate with the Japanese. The American President Theodore Roosevelt presented an offer to the Tsar which he believed would secure peace. At the Treat of Portsmouth signed in New Hampshire, the Russian basically accepted all the demands of the Japanese. They were in a weak position and only the intervention of the Americans ensured that they did not even lose more territory. Under the Treaty the Japanese gained Port Arthur and the surrounding territory. The port, now called Ryojun became very important during the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the war, the Soviet Union occupied the port and they later handed it over to the Chinese Communists in 1955.

The defeat of the Russians demonstrated the weakness of the Tsar and his army. It was an omen for Russia’s defeat in WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution.

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