February-May 1904

The Japanese Navy secured temporary command of the Yellow Sea with their surprise attack on the Russian Squadron anchored at Port Arthur, permitting the Japanese 1st Army to land in Korea on 9 February. During March and April the 1st Army moved north to the Yalu River to secure the Japanese hold on Korea. At the same time, the Russians created the Eastern Detachment to stop any Japanese movement north into Manchuria. On 30 April-1 May, the two forces met at the Battle of the Yalu. While the Russians were defeated, they retreated in good order.


May 1904

While the Japanese 1st Army regrouped at Feng-huang-cheng, the Russians decided to reinforce the Eastern Detachment. The II Siberian Army corps, mobilizing, was dispatched eastwards and joined the III Siberian Army Corps. Both sides continued to build-up their forces and await events to the west.


In the west, the Japanese landed the 2nd Army at Pi-tzu-wo from 5 to 13 May. After positioning forces to protect itself from a Russian attack from the north, the 2nd Army advanced towards Port Arthur, contacted the Russian defenses at Nan Shan, and prepared to attack. Bad weather delayed the attack until 25 May, when the 1st, 3rd and 4th Japanese Divisions positioned themselves to attack the reinforced 5th East Siberian Regiment at Chin Chou. The 5th Siberian held out until early on the morning of the 26th, delaying the attack on the Nan Shan position.


On the evening of the 25th, during the Chin Chou battle, Major General Fock’s horse was spooked by lighting and threw him, causing serious injuries. Major General Kondratenko of the 7th East Siberian Division was ordered to take command, and arrived early the next morning having ridden all night from Port Arthur. There was little he could do except survey the defenses, but he resolved to stop the Japanese at this strategic choke-point.


The Japanese preliminary bombardment of the main Nan Shan position began at 0530 on the 26th. Having observed the initial attacks and being informed of Col. Trekaykov’s requests for reinforcements, Major General Kondratenko quickly committed the 14th East Siberian Rifle Regiment to the fight. As the main threat was on the Russian eastern flank, the 5th E.S.R. Regiment began to concentrate in that area, with the 14th E.S.R. Regiment taking over the less engaged western flank. As the battle moved towards a decision in the afternoon, Major General Kondratenko committed the 1st Battalion, 13th East Siberian Rifle (E.S.R.) Regiment as a reserve for the defenders, while positioning the 4th E.S. Artillery Brigade to provide fire support. The Japanese 4th Division, in a final attempt to turn the flank, waded into the waters of Chin Chou Bay. Moving towards shore, however, they found themselves facing the relatively fresh 14th E.S.R. Regiment, supported by two batteries of the 4th E.S.A. Brigade.  The Russian Regiment easily held off the attack. As night fell, the Japanese attack had been stopped with over 7,000 causalities. Russian losses were less than 1,000.


A strategic setback for the Japanese, the Russian victory at Nan Shan denied the Japanese the use of the port of Dalny and thus the ability to build up their forces in the theater, as Pi-tzu-wo was insufficient to support any build-up of the Japanese forces. Without facilities to support additional troops, the Japanese were strategically stymied. The 1st Army couldn’t advance in the east, as the Russians would be able to concentrate on it with little fear of a threat from the south. The newly created 4th Army was landed at Ta-ku-san as a connecting force, but it was too small to provide any real support to 1st Army without the 2nd Army also advancing.  The Japanese 2nd Army, in turn, lacked sufficient forces to both contain Port Arthur and advance northward as long as the Russians held Nan Shan.


June 1904

Fortunately for the Japanese, the Russians were still attempting to mobilize forces and weren’t disposed towards aggressive action. After the Battle of the Yalu, the X and XVII Army Corps were mobilized for deployment to Manchuria. The successful outcome of the Battle of Nan Shan eased concerns in the Russian court, and further mobilizations were canceled.


Wishing to resolve the war with as little effort as possible, and always concerned with Russia’s western border with Europe, and in light of Japanese inactivity in the first two weeks of June, the Tsar made several decisions. The X and XVII Armies would continue to Manchuria, but would replace the garrison of Vladivostok and Harbin rather than deploying into Manchuria. The two brigades of these corps currently around Liao-yang would be withdrawn to join their Divisions. This plan kept these two corps available for deployment back to European Russia if the need should arise. The newly named V Siberian Army Corps (2nd and 8th E.S.R. Divisions) would deploy into Manchuria once relived by the two European army corps. The IV Siberian Army Corps would complete mobilization, but no other units were scheduled for use in Manchuria. Diplomacy would be used to attempt an end to the war.


This lack of reinforcement s caused General Kuropatkin (commander of the Russian Manchurian Army) to take a cautious position. Rather than organizing his forces forward around Liao-yang, he decided to make Mukden his center of gravity. After arriving units had assembled around Mukden, he would decide to which area they would deploy. This would ensure that the Japanese couldn’t create a decisive battle in the near term and provide time for the mobilizing unit to form and train-up. Again, time was the key element for the Russians.


However the Japanese chose not to remain idle, and the strategic situation changed in late June. Lieutenant General Oku’s second attack on Nan Shan was launched with the navy in support. The Russian 7th Division, back under the command of Major General Fock, was poorly handled and lost the position after two days of heavy fighting. The 5th E.S.R. Regiment, brave defenders of the position during the first battle, were back in Port Arthur awaiting transport to Newchaung so they could rejoin their division. With the loss of Nan Shan, the Japanese were able to seize Dalny, and immediately began to clear that port.


With the initial Russian peace feelers already public, the Japanese recognized that time could become in short supply, but the idea of a quick victory, dashed by Nan Shan, was hard to revive. Costs were mounting and the euphoria from the Yalu had been lost. Only a series of quick successes could place the Japanese in a strong position for the peace talks.  Once the 3rd Army landed and contained Port Arthur, it would free other forces for an immediate offensive northward.


July 1904

After the Japanese 3rd Army successfully landed at Dalny and began operations against Port Arthur. Clearing the passes in the middle of the Kwantung Peninsula, they closed on the main defenses of Port Arthur. Meanwhile, to the north and east, the long awaited Japanese advance by the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Armies began in the middle of July. The Russian Eastern Detachment under Lieutenant General Count Keller was able to hold the position of the passes (Fen-shui Ling, Pa-li Ling, and Mo-tien Ling) and seriously delay the Japanese 1st Army. However, Lieutenant General Oku was able to push the Russian Southern Detachment under Lieutenant General Zarabaiev (commander of the IV Siberians) northwards, while severely handling the IV Siberian Army Corps. In coordination with the 4th Army, Lieutenant General Oku was able to press the Russians and enter Liao-yang on 4 August. The Russian Southern Detachment retreated to the Scha Ho and began preparing positions. With this, operations ceased temporarily as both sides secured their supply lines and considered their situation.


Further reading: Warner “The Tide at Sunrise