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"Russo-Japanese War - Japanese tactical success?" Topic

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492 hits since 5 Apr 2021
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

redcoat05 Apr 2021 2:45 a.m. PST

Hi all,

I am reading Spencer Jones's fascinating book on the lessons that the British Army adopted from the 2nd Boer War, 'From Boer War to World War'. The book shows how the British came away from the South African War with a much-increased respect for the carnage that modern infantry firepower could inflict on attackers, and how increasing the extension of the files, sections advancing by alternate rushes, and improving marksmanship all seemed to be widely accepted as necessary hallmarks of successful tactics. Indeed, Jones argues that the short-lived BEF of 1914-15 was successful because it was still so marked by the experience of fighting the Boers.

However, he refers repeatedly to Japanese successes in making frontal attacks with the bayonet against the Russians in the R-J War. Although he mentions (p.84) that the Japanese told Sir Ian Hamilton that after initial disappointments they were abandoning 'Prussian' tactics (dense assault lines proceeded by skirmishers) in favour of Boer War-style British extension, Jones also notes that German observers instead approvingly noted the Japanese acceptance of *massive casualties* as the primary key to their success. (I believe French officers also used the R-J War as support for their own swelling fetish for 'attaque outrance'.)

So what was the primary reason for Japan's tactical successes against Russia? Was it, as the Germans noted, suicidal bravery and dash, and an ability to absorb horrific casualties? Or did the Japanese success have more to do with Russian shortcomings?

dBerczerk05 Apr 2021 6:52 a.m. PST

Logistics, and the tyranny of distance, were considerable Russian shortcomings / disadvantages.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP05 Apr 2021 7:07 a.m. PST

Willingness to absorb high casualty rates, the fact that the Russians were as noted at the far end of their logistical tether, pre-war intelligence that was reasonably accurate about the Japanese Navy but grossly underestimate the Japanes army (, much better Japanese intelligence on the Russian position in the Far East ( link ) and the fact that the Russians had to keep a lot of troops in the West and in Central Asia

Throughout the whole war a substantial part of the Russian leadership thought of it as a side show; the Japanese, though, concentrated on the war as their main and essentially only priority

redcoat05 Apr 2021 8:54 a.m. PST

So, gents, how did Russian logistical shortcomings actually impact on the battlefield? Did Russian troops run out of ammo during Japanese assaults, or were there too few men defending particular positions?

The fact is that the Japanese seemed to be able to carry Russian positions at the point of the bayonet, in a way that we don't appear to associate with the failed assaults of 1914-16.

mildbill05 Apr 2021 10:07 a.m. PST

Barbed wire made the machine gun supreme on the western front. Otherwise mass losses could carry a position.

rmaker05 Apr 2021 12:22 p.m. PST

The Russian forces in the Far East were well prepared to refight the Russo-Turkish War. And the reinforcing units were no better, being mostly made up of third line reservists, many of who had never seen the "new" 3-line rifle until being issued them as they boarded the trains.

Thus Russian firepower wasn't at the level of the Boer forces. And the officers were still inculcated with the misinterpretation of Suvarov's concepts that crippled the Russian army throughout the 19th Century. See Menning's Bayonets before Bullets.

And the effectiveness of Japanese tactics depended heavily on which General was in charge. Nogi threw away thousands of men at Port Arthur in frontal charges against fortifications with effect. Kuroki combined frontal attacks with flanking movements to great effect with much smaller losses.

Tgerritsen Supporting Member of TMP05 Apr 2021 1:44 p.m. PST

I would argue that logistical shortcomings had no impact on the tactical battlefield in the Russo-Japanese War, but rather had it's impact strategically.

Russian soldiers were brave, and pretty decently equipped. There were no shortages of ammo or weapons for the soldiers, and when it counted, they had the manpower to do the job.

I would highly recommend The Rising Sun and The Tumbling Bear by Connaughton as being both a gripping read and an excellent discussion of the situation that both the Japanese and Russians faced in the war. link

The Japanese won largely because they were motivated and well trained on average while both sides were willing and able to sustain devastating losses. Both sides had similar tactics and equipment and believed that the bayonet charge was the war winning tactic.

The individual Russian was extremely brave and well versed in what he was trained to do, but was typically led by officers who were a mixed bag of political appointees and eager bright young officers who in turn were often led by senior officers who had no business being officers in a modern army at that time. Kuropotkin was one of the few senior officers who didn't underestimate the Japanese, but was so cautious and so timid that he turned possible victories into defeats and his hesitancy infected the entire senior staff.

There are accounts of Russians holding out desperately against wave after wave of Japanese soldiers only to be unsupported and unreinforced and being forced to retreat (or being overrun) when the battle could have been won or at least a stalemate achieved.

The war was lost not by the individual tactics used, but by the leadership on the Russian side. Ironically, Kuropatkin was ultimately right in his grand strategy- which was to give ground and bleed the Japanese until he had enough forces to overwhelmingly push back the Japanese. The problem is he totally misread the feelings back in Europe and the support he was going to get. By the end of the war The Japanese were indeed almost broke and at the end of their logistical tether, but by then the government in St Petersburg had given up and refused to send more Russian boys to their deaths. The Russian people were so stunned by the losses (especially the naval losses) that they turned revolutionary (something that shocked the communists, who weren't prepared when this moment came).

An all out push by the Russian army at the time of the ceasefire would have probably resulted in a Russian strategic victory- but that was simply not a political reality. They still had a huge army, plenty of ammo but no political will. On the other side, the Japanese army and government still had the political will but were exhausted, nearly broke and had no more manpower to give to the war.

The Japanese agreed to negotiate the end of the war because they knew this and felt they could consolidate their victory in a treaty and gain reparations from Russia to stimulate their economy and placate the populace who had sacrificed treasure and sons to win and expected spoils. Things didn't go quite as planned and in some ways the Japanese won the war and lost the peace (which would create widespread resentment in Japan and plant the seeds for the conflict 30 years later).

JSchutt05 Apr 2021 6:48 p.m. PST

dBerczerk knows what he is talking about. Hideously long supply chains building up nonexistent transportation systems and a dubious reason for conflict makes for a poor fighting force….

emckinney05 Apr 2021 8:12 p.m. PST

The Japanese had to bring in green units to make later attacks because units that had made several attacks refused to go forward …

Nine pound round06 Apr 2021 11:10 a.m. PST

The lesson that a foreign power could be fought to a standstill, and deterred from pressing it's accumulating advantage against an eroding Japanese superiority by a sufficient level of initial success, geographic distance and enormous logistical hurdles was a truly unfortunate one.

Blutarski06 Apr 2021 6:33 p.m. PST

A huge amount of material on the RJW ground campaign can be found on the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library website.


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