The Siege of Port Arthur (Japanese language: 旅順攻囲戦 , Ryojun Kōisen, 1 August 1904 – 2 January 1905), the deep-water port and Russian naval base at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria, was the longest and most violent land battle of the Russo-Japanese War.
Port Arthur was widely regarded as one of the most strongly fortified positions in the world at the time. However, during the First Sino-Japanese War, General Nogi Maresuke had taken the city from the forces of Qing China in only a few days. The ease of his victory during that previous conflict, and overconfidence by the Japanese General Staff in Japan's ability to overcome improved fortifications made by the Russians, led to a much longer campaign, with much heavier losses than expected.
The Siege of Port Arthur saw the introduction of much technology used in subsequent wars of the 20th century (particularly in World War I) including massive 11 in (280 mm) mortars capable of hurling 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) shells over 8 kilometers (5.0 miles), as well as rapid-firing light howitzers, Maxim machine guns, bolt-action magazine rifles, barbed wire entanglements, electric fences, arc lamp searchlights, tactical radio signalling (and, in response, the first military use of radio jamming), hand grenades, trench warfare, and the use of modified naval mines as land weapons.
A major cause of the Russo-Japanese War was the lease of Port Arthur to Russia by the weak Qing government of China, after the Triple Intervention (Russia, France and Germany) just three days after the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The Treaty had confirmed Japan's possession and hegemony in this region, captured by her during the First Sino-Japanese War. As the only ice-free port for Russia in the Far East, control of this territory was of vital strategic importance to Russian plans for further expansion of their empire in Asia.
The Russian forces manning the defenses of Port Arthur under Major-General Baron Anatoly Stoessel consisted of almost 50,000 men and 506 guns (including the crews of the Russian warships in port). He also had the option of removing the guns from the fleet to bolster the land defenses. The total population of Port Arthur at the time was around 87,000, which meant that a very high proportion of the population were combatants.
Russian improvements to the defences of Port Arthur included a multi-perimeter layout with overlapping fields of fire and making the best possible use of the natural terrain. However, many of the redoubts and fortifications were still unfinished, as considerable resources were either in very short supply or had been diverted to improving the fortifications at Dalny, further north on the Liaodong Peninsula.
The outer defense perimeter of Port Arthur consisted of a line of hills, including Hsiaokushan and Takushan near the Ta-ho River in the east, and Namakoyama, Akasakayama, 174-Meter Hill, 203-Meter Hill and False Hill in the west. All of these hills were heavily fortified. Approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) behind this defensive line was the original stone Chinese wall, which encircled the Old Town of Lushun from the south to the Lun-ho River at the northwest. The Russians had continued the line of the Chinese wall to the west and south, enclosing the approaches to the harbor and the New Town of Port Arthur with concrete forts, machine gun emplacements, and connecting trenches.
General Stoessel withdrew to Port Arthur on 30 July 1904. Facing the Russians was the Japanese Third Army, about 90,000 strong, backed by 474 artillery guns, under the command of General Baron Nogi Maresuke.
Battle of the Orphan Hills
The shelling of Port Arthur began on 7 August 1904 by a pair of land-based 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns, and was carried on intermittently until 19 August 1904. The Japanese fleet also participated in shore bombardment, while in the northeast the army prepared to attack the two semi-isolated hills protruding from the outer defense perimeter: 600-foot (180 m) high Takushan (Big Orphan Hill) and the smaller Hsuaokushan (Little Orphan Hill). These hills were not heavily fortified, but had steep slopes and were fronted by the Ta River, which had been dammed by the Russians to provide a stronger obstacle. The hills commanded a view over almost a kilometer of flat ground to the Japanese lines, and it was thus essential for the Japanese to take these hills to complete their encirclement of Port Arthur.
After pounding the two hills from 04:30 in the morning until 19:30 at night, General Nogi launched a frontal infantry assault, which was hampered by heavy rain, poor visibility and dense clouds of smoke. The Japanese were able to advance only as far as the forward slopes of both hills, and many soldiers drowned in the Ta River. Even the night attacks resulted in unexpectedly high casualties, as the Russians used powerful searchlights to expose the attackers to artillery and machine gun cross-fire.
Undeterred, Nogi re-opened an artillery bombardment the following day, 8 August 1904, but his assault stalled again, this time due to heavy fire from the Russian fleet led by the cruiser Novik. Nogi ordered his men to press on regardless of casualties. Despite some confusion in orders behind the Russian lines, which resulted in some units abandoning their posts, numerous Russian troops held on tenaciously, and the Japanese finally managed to overrun the Russian positions mostly through sheer superiority in numbers. Takushan was captured at 20:00, and the following morning, 9 August 1904, Hsiaokushan also fell to the Japanese.
Gaining these two hills cost the Japanese 1,280 killed and wounded. The Japanese Army complained bitterly to the Navy about the ease with which the Russians were able to obtain naval fire support, and in response the Japanese Navy brought in a battery of 12-pound guns, with a range sufficient to ensure that there would be no recurrence of a Russian naval sortie.
The loss of the two hills, when reported to the Tsar, caused him to consider the safety of the Russian Pacific Fleet trapped at Port Arthur, and he sent immediate orders to Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, in command of the fleet after the death of Admiral Stepan Makarov, to join the squadron at Vladivostok. Vitgeft put to sea at 08:30 on 10 August 1904 and engaged the waiting Japanese under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō in what was to become known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea.
On 11 August 1904, the Japanese sent an offer of temporary cease-fire to Port Arthur, so the Russians could allow all non-combatants to leave under guarantee of safety. The offer was rejected, but the foreign military observers all decided to leave for safety on 14 August 1904.
Battle of 174 Meter Hill
At noon on 13 August 1904, General Nogi launched a photo reconnaissance balloon from the Wolf Hills, which the Russians unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down. Nogi was reportedly very surprised at the lack of coordination of the Russian artillery efforts, and he decided to proceed with a direct frontal assault down the Wantai Ravine, which, if successful, would carry Japanese forces directly into the heart of the city. Given his previous high casualty rate and his lack of heavy artillery, the decision created controversy in his staff; however, Nogi was under orders to take Port Arthur as quickly as possible.
After sending a message to the garrison of Port Arthur demanding surrender (which was immediately refused), the Japanese began their assault at dawn on 19 August 1904. The main thrust was directed at 174 Meter Hill, with flanking and diversionary attacks along the line from Fort Sung-shu to the Chi-Kuan Battery. The Russian defensive positions on 174 Meter Hill itself were held by the 5th and 13th East Siberian Regiments, reinforced by sailors, under the command of Colonel Tretyakov, a veteran of the Battle of Nanshan.
Just as he had done at the Battle of Nanshan, Tretyakov, although having his first line of trenches overrun, tenaciously refused to retreat and held control of 174 Meter Hill despite severe and mounting casualties. On the following day, 20 August 1904, Tretyakov asked for reinforcements but, just as at Nanshan, none were forthcoming. With more than half of his men killed or wounded and with his command disintegrating as small groups of men fell back in confusion, Tretyakov had no choice but to withdraw, and 174 Meter Hill was thus overrun by the Japanese. The assault on 174 Meter Hill alone had cost the Japanese some 1,800 killed and wounded and the Russians over 1,000.
The assaults on the other sections of the Russian line had also cost the Japanese heavily, but with no results and no ground gained. When Nogi finally called off his attempt to penetrate the Wantai Ravine on 24 August 1904, he had only 174 Meter Hill and the West and East Pan-lung to show for his loss of more than 16,000 men. With all other positions remaining firmly under Russian control, Nogi at last decided to abandon frontal assaults in favor of a protracted siege.
Having failed in his attempts to penetrate the Port Arthur fortifications by direct assault, Nogi now ordered sappers to construct trenches and tunnels under the Russian forts in order to explode mines to bring down the walls. By now, Nogi had also been reinforced by additional artillery and 16,000 more troops from Japan, which partially compensated for the casualties sustained in his first assaults. However, the major new development was the arrival of the first battery of huge 11-inch (280 mm) siege howitzers, replacing those lost when the transport Hitachi Maru, loaded with a battalion of the First Reserve Regiment of the Guards, was sunk by Russian cruisers on 15 June 1904. The massive 11-inch howitzers could throw a 227-kilogram (500.4-pound) shell over 9 kilometers (5.6 miles), and Nogi at last had the firepower necessary to make a serious attempt against the Russian fortifications. The huge shells were nicknamed "roaring trains" by the Russian troops (for the sound they made just before impact), and during their period at Port Arthur over 35,000 of these shells were fired. The Krupp howitzers had originally been installed in shore batteries in forts overlooking Tokyo Bay and Osaka Bay, and had been intended for anti-ship operations.
While the Japanese set to work in the sapping campaign, General Stoessel continued to spend most of his time writing complaining letters to the Tsar about lack of cooperation from his fellow officers in the navy. The garrison in Port Arthur was starting to experience serious outbreaks of scurvy and dysentery due to the lack of fresh food.
Nogi now shifted his attention to the Temple Redoubt and the Waterworks Redoubt (also known as the Erhlung Redoubt) to the east, and to 203 Meter Hill and Namakoyama to the west. Strangely, at this time neither Nogi nor Stoessel seem to have realized the strategic importance of 203 Meter Hill: its unobstructed views of the harbor would (if taken by the Japanese) have enabled them to control the harbor and to fire on the Russian fleet sheltering there. This fact was only brought to Nogi's attention when he was visited by General Kodama Gentarō, who immediately saw that the hill was the key to the whole Russian defense.
By mid-September the Japanese had dug over eight kilometers (5 miles) of trenches and were within 70 meters (230 feet) of the Waterworks Redoubt, which they attacked and captured on 19 September 1904. Thereafter they successfully took the Temple Redoubt, while another attacking force was sent against both Namakoyama and 203 Meter Hill. The former was taken that same day, but on 203 Meter Hill the Russian defenders cut down the dense columns of attacking troops with machine gun and cannon fire in swathes. The attack failed, and the Japanese were forced back, leaving the ground covered with their dead and wounded. The battle at 203 Meter Hill continued for several more days, with the Japanese gaining a foothold each day, only to be forced back each time by Russian counter-attacks. By the time General Nogi abandoned the attempt, he had lost over 3500 men. The Russians used the respite to begin strengthening the defenses on 203 Meter Hill yet further, while Nogi began a prolonged artillery bombardment of the town and those parts of the harbor within range of his guns.
Nogi attempted yet another mass “human wave” assault on 203 Meter Hill on 29 October 1904, which, if successful, was intended to be a present for the Meiji Emperor's birthday. However, aside from seizing some minor fortifications, the attack failed after six days of hand-to-hand combat, leaving Nogi with the deaths of an additional 124 officers and 3611 soldiers to report to his Emperor instead of a victory.
The onset of winter did little to slow the intensity of the battle. Nogi received additional reinforcements from Japan, including 18 more Krupp 11-inch (280 mm) howitzers, which were manhandled from the railway by teams of 800 soldiers along an eight-mile (13 km) long narrow gauge track that had been laid expressly for that purpose. These howitzers were added to the 450 other guns already in place. One innovation of the campaign was the centralization of the Japanese fire control, with the artillery batteries connected to the field headquarters by miles of telephone lines.
Now well aware that the Russian Baltic Fleet was on its way, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters fully understood the necessity of destroying what Russian ships were still serviceable at Port Arthur. It thus became essential that 203 Meter Hill be captured without further delay, and political pressure began to mount for Nogi’s replacement.
Battle of 203 Meter Hill
The Russians defenders entrenched on the summit of 203 Meter Hill were commanded by Colonel Tretyakov, and were organized into five companies of infantry with machine gun detachments, a company of engineers, a few sailors and a battery of artillery. The defenses of the hill itself, although having taken a pounding during the previous attacks, were still intact. As well as the natural strength of its elevated position with steep sides, it was protected by a massive redoubt and two keeps, and completely surrounded by electrified barbed wire entanglements. It was also connected to the neighboring strongholds on False Hill and Akasakayama by trenches. The name “203-Meter Hill” is actually a misnomer, as the hill consists of two peaks (203 meters and 210 meters high, and 140 meters apart) connected by a sharp ridge. On top of the 203 meter peak was the fortified Russian command post in reinforced concrete.
After his two costly set-backs in attempting to take 203 Meter Hill during October, Nogi had been saved from court-martial only through the unprecedented personal intervention of Emperor Meiji. However, Field Marshal Oyama Iwao found the continuing unavailability of the 3rd Army's manpower to be intolerable, and sent General Kodama Gentarō to compel Nogi to take drastic action, or else relieve him of command. Nogi thus had no alternative but to attempt one more all-out assault on 203 Meter Hill, this time regardless of the cost.
By this time, after weeks of tunneling, the Japanese sappers were underneath the main defense perimeter and on 26 November 1904, (coincidentally the same day that the Russian Baltic Fleet was entering the Indian Ocean), Nogi ordered his forces to recommence their attack. Direct frontal assaults on both Fort Erhlung and Fort Sungshu were once again beaten back by the Russian defenders. Japanese casualties were officially 4,000 men, but unofficially perhaps twice as high. Russian General Roman Kondratenko took the precaution of stationing snipers to shoot any of his front line troops attempting to abandon their positions.
At 08:30 on 28 November 1904, with massive artillery support, Japanese troops again attempted an assault up the sides of both Akasakayama and 203 Meter Hill. Over 1,000 500 lb (230 kg) shells from the 11-inch (280 mm) howitzers were fired in a single day to support this attack. The Japanese reached as far as the Russian line of barbed wire entanglements by daybreak and held their ground throughout the following day, while their artillery kept the defenders busy by a continuous bombardment. Nonetheless, the Japanese forces suffered serious losses, as the Russian defenders were well positioned to use hand grenades and machine guns against the tightly packed mass of Japanese soldiers. On 1 December Kodama Gentarō temporarily took over command of the Japanese forces from Nogi, who was partly in shock from the death of both of his sons that week. The battle continued throughout the following days with very heavy hand-to-hand combat. Finally, at 10:30 on 5 December 1904, after another massive artillery bombardment, the Japanese managed to overrun 203 Meter Hill, finding only a handful of defenders still alive on the summit. The Russians launched two counter-attacks to retake the hill, both of which failed, and by 17:00, 203 Meter Hill was securely under Japanese control.
For Japan, the cost of capturing this landmark was great, with over 8,000 dead and wounded in the final assault alone. For General Nogi, the cost of capturing 203 Meter Hill was made even more poignant when he received word that his last surviving son had been killed in action during the final assault on the hill. The Russians, who had no more than 1,500 men on the hill at any one time, lost over 6,000 killed and wounded.
Destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet
From the vantage point on 203 Meter Hill overlooking Port Arthur harbor, Nogi could now bombard the Russian fleet by relocating his heavy 11-inch (280 mm) howitzers with 500-kilogram (1,102.3-pound) armor-piercing shells on the summit. This done, he systematically started to sink the Russian ships within range.
On 5 December 1904, the battleship Poltava was destroyed, followed by the battleship Retvizan on 7 December 1904, the battleships Pobeda and Peresvet and the cruisers Pallada and Bayan on 9 December 1904. The battleship Sevastopol, although hit 5 times by 11-inch (280 mm) shells, managed to move out of range of the guns. Stung by the fact that the Russian Pacific Fleet had been sunk by the army and not by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and with a direct order from Tokyo that the Sevastopol was not to be allowed to escape, Admiral Togo sent in wave after wave of destroyers in six separate attacks on the sole remaining Russian battleship. After 3 weeks, the Sevastopol was still afloat, having survived 124 torpedoes fired at her while sinking two Japanese destroyers and damaging six other vessels. The Japanese had meanwhile lost the cruiser Takasago to a mine outside the harbor.
On the night of 2 January 1905, after Port Arthur surrendered, Captain Nikolai Essen of the Sevastopol had the crippled battleship scuttled in 30 fathoms (55 m) of water by opening the sea cocks on one side, so that the ship would sink on its side and could not be raised and salvaged by the Japanese.
Following the loss of the Pacific Fleet, the rationale for holding onto Port Arthur was questioned by Stoessel and Foch in a council on 8 December 1904, but the idea of surrender was rejected by the other senior officers. Japanese trench and tunnel warfare continued. With the death of General Kondratenko on 15 December 1904 at Fort Chikuan, Stoessel appointed the incompetent Foch in his place. On 18 December 1904, the Japanese exploded an 1,800-kilogram (3,968-pound) mine under Fort Chikuan, which fell that night. On 28 December 1904, mines under Fort Erhlung were detonated, destroying that fort as well.
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On 31 December 1904, a series of mines were exploded under Fort Sungshu, the sole surviving major fortress, which surrendered that day. On 1 January 1905, Wantai finally fell to the Japanese. On the same day, Stoessel and Foch sent a message to a surprised General Nogi, offering to surrender. None of the other senior Russian staff had been consulted, and notably Smirnov and Tretyakov were outraged. The surrender was accepted and signed on 5 January 1905 in the northern suburb of Shuishiying.
With this, the Russian garrison was taken into captivity, and civilians were allowed to leave, but the Russian officers were given the choice of either going into prisoner-of-war camps with their men or being given parole on the promise of taking no further part in the war.
The Japanese were astounded to find that a huge store of food and ammunition remained in Port Arthur, which implied that Stoessel had surrendered long before the fight was over. Stoessel, Foch and Smirnov were court-martialed on their return to St Petersburg.
As for Nogi, after leaving a garrison in Port Arthur, he led the surviving bulk of his army of 120,000 men north to join Marshal Oyama at the Battle of Mukden.
Russian land forces in the course of the siege suffered 31,306 casualties, of whom at least 6,000 were killed. Lower figures such as 15,000 killed, wounded, and missing are sometimes claimed. At the end of the siege, the Japanese captured a further 878 army officers and 23,491 other ranks; 15,000 of those captured were wounded. The Japanese also captured 546 guns and 82,000 artillery shells. In addition the Russians lost their entire fleet based at Port Arthur, which was either sunk or interned. The Japanese captured 8,956 seamen. The Japanese army casualties were later officially listed as 57,780 casualties (killed, wounded and missing), of whom 14,000 were killed. In addition 33,769 became sick during the siege (including 21,023 with beriberi). The Japanese navy lost 16 ships in the course of the siege, including two battleships and four cruisers. There were higher estimates of Japanese army casualties at the time such as 94,000-110,000 killed, wounded, and missing, though these were written without access to the Japanese Medical History of the War.
The capture of Port Arthur and the subsequent Japanese victories at the Battle of Mukden and Tsushima gave Japan a dominant military position, resulting in favorable arbitration by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the war. The loss of the war in 1905 led to major political unrest in Imperial Russia (see: Russian revolution of 1905).
In Popular culture
In 1980, a Japanese war drama film called Port Arthur was released. Directed by Toshio Masuda, it starred Tatsuya Nakadai (Nogi Maresuke), Tetsuro Tamba (Kodama Gentaro), and Toshirō Mifune (Emperor Meiji).
In 1983, the battle for Port Arthur was portrayed in the Reilly, Ace of Spies episode "Prelude to War".
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Siege of Port Arthur.|
- The Russo-Japanese War Research Society
- Siege of Port Arthur Stereoviews Lafayette College Library, from the collection of Richard Mammana
- PRISONERS AND SPOILS OF PORT ARTHUR. The Straits Times, 9 May 1905, Page 7
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