Siege of Port Arthur, (1904–1905)

December 17, 2011 0 Comments

Port Arthur

Port Arthur is the former name of the port city of Lüshun at the tip of China’s Liaodong Peninsula in Liaoning Province, approximately 30 kilometers south of the city of Dalian. Port Arthur takes its name from Royal Navy Lieutenant William C. Arthur, who briefly occupied the harbor in 1858. Port Arthur’s natural harbor and strategic position, commanding the northern Yellow and Bohai Seas, resulted in its fortification in the 1880s by Qing China and its choice as headquarters for the developing Beiyang Fleet. The port played a major role in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 when it was captured by Japanese troops after a short siege. On the strength of its peace settlement with China in 1895, Japan briefly occupied the city along with the Liaodong Peninsula yet was forced to withdraw in response to the Triple Intervention of Russia, France, and Germany. In 1898, Russia occupied Port Arthur as part of its lease of railroad rights in Manchuria. It soon extended a spur of the Trans-Siberian Railway to the port, increasing the location’s strategic and commercial value.

At the Siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japanese forces mobilized coastal defence guns in order to bombard the town. This tactic influenced the usage of heavy artillery in WWI.

The Siege

A costly but important Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Indecisive Russian command failed to halt the landing of Japan’s Second Army on the Liaotung Peninsula from May 5–19, 1904. General Oku Yasukata skillfully directed the Japanese advance and defeated the Russians guarding the narrow isthmus at Nanshan on May 25, which isolated Port Arthur. After the battle, Oku led his army north to engage the main Russian army, while the Third Army commanded by General Nogi Maresuke, who had captured Port Arthur 10 years earlier in the Sino-Japanese war, landed at Dalny, east of Port Arthur, and advanced on Port Arthur. Russian commanders made little effort to interfere with Nogi, and reinforcements by the end of July had built his force to 80,000 soldiers and 474 artillery pieces. The Japanese began probing Russian defenses in July and launched their first assault on August 7. This and successive assaults suffered heavy casualties, forcing Nogi to proceed cautiously and build extensive siege works. The key Russian position on 203 Meter Hill did not fall until December 5, but afterwards Japanese artillery on that hill shelled the city regularly. Russian General Anatolii M. Stessel surrendered the city and its garrison of 32,000 soldiers and sailors on January 2, 1905, despite ample stocks of food and munitions. Russia suffered 31,000 casualties during the siege, and Japan suffered 59,000 casualties.

The beginning of the end came on December 6, when Japanese sappers succeeded in tunneling under the ramparts of the fort on 203-meter Hill, the key to the entire position. With a great boom and huge clouds of dust, charges exploded, demolishing the rampart and sending a generous slide of dirt down the steep hillside. This afforded the Japanese a natural ramp upwards as they rushed the fort. In a desperate spate of bayonet work and hand-to-hand fighting, the Japanese stormed the fort and turned its guns on the doomed city. No longer fearing bombardment from the heights, they brought up colossal 11-inch siege guns and began a relentless cannonade of the port and its surrounding forts and batteries. The ships caught in harbor were damaged and sunk in the shallows. One by one the Russian hilltop forts were pummeled into dust.

FURTHER READING: Jukes, Geoffrey. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904–5. Oxford: Osprey, 2002; Warner, Denis, and Warner, Peggy. The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905. London: Frank Cass, 2002.

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