The Imperial Japanese Navy Sinks the Russian Fleet: Manchuria 1904/05

Steve Newman Writer
3 min readApr 16, 2022
The Russian Fleet sinking — Port Arthur, Manchuria, February 1904. Image: Pinterest

In 1897, to gain a warm water port on the Pacific Coast Russia took control of an undefended area at the tip of the Chinese Peninsular of Liaotung in southern Manchuria, which included Port Arthur. The Chinese were in no fit state to oppose Russia, and in the end leased the area to the Russians. It would become, by 1904, a bad move.

When Theodore Roosevelt, came to office in 1901, the 1899 US ‘Open Door’ policy of trade with the Far East had been slammed shut by the Russians, at which, as Roosevelt’s biographer, Nathan Miller, tells us, “…Roosevelt privately fumed against these arrogant and treacherous moves [by the Russians], but there was little the United States could do about them…”, and the American people would certainly not have supported an intervention by the US Military to kick the Russians out of Manchuria.

Japan saw things a bit differently.

In an age of treaties and counter treaties, and of national expansion, Russia’s take-over of that small part of Manchuria worried Japan hugely; and initially Japan offered to recognise Russia’s dominance in Manchuria if they, the Russians, would agree to Japan taking over Korea. Russia refused, instead demanding that a buffer zone between Russia and Japan, north of the 39th Parallel in Korea, be created. The Japanese Government refused, choosing instead to go to war.

Since opening themselves up to the west Japan was well placed to go to war: having created a new army and, perhaps more importantly, a new navy, built with the help of the British that included the latest Class of cruisers and battleships (just two years before the Dreadnought Class), with crews trained by the Royal Navy, as part of the new entente between the two nations.

The new Imperial Japanese Navy, eager to show its prowess, and with Britain effectively looking the other way, attacked the Russian Eastern Fleet at Port Arthur on the 9th of February 1904.

The destruction of that Russian fleet was immense, as was the loss of life.

The Surovov sinking at the Battle of Tsushima 1905