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Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Seige Of Port Arthur: 日露交戦地圖. [Russo-Japanese War Theatre]


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This very large and extremely rare ephemeral broadside, or poster map, was published, likely in Osaka, to showcase the theatre of the ongoing Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), an epic showdown in which Meiji Japan became the first Asian power to defeat a great European nation in a major conflict in modern history. Most of the land war occurred in Southern Manchuria, which was hitherto a Russian zone of quasi-colonial control but was coveted by Japan for its agrarian and mineral resources, as well as its vast industrial potential.

Printed in a delightfully crude manner on rice paper, with hastily, yet attractive, splashes of wash colour, the map embraces all Southern Manchuria and Korea, as well as the main Russian base in the Far East, Vladivostok, plus the adjacent parts of Japan and China proper. The map also labels all major cities and towns, roads, railways, shipping routes, ports (marked by anchors), political boundaries and key features such as the Great Wall of China.

Forts and ships all across the scene are rendered in pictographic fashion, with Japanese assets marked with the flag of the Rising Sun, while Russian possessions and vessels are distinguished by the solitaire of St. Andrew.

The details on the map suggest that it was printed in December 1904, as it shows the latter stages of the Siege of Port Arthur (August 1, 1904 to January 2, 1905), but taken before the event had concluded. During the siege, massive a Japanese force surrounded (both by land and sea) the key Russian city of Port Arthurs, today the Lüshunkou District of the city of Dalian. The Russians were well armed and in a strongly fortified position, and they held out much longer than the Japanese anticipated, yet they were subjected to one of the most intense artillery barrages ever seen, which progressively wore them down.

Specifically, the main map shows Port Arthur surrounded by Japanese artillery, which having shelled and severely damaged the Russian Pacific fleet offshore, left the job to be finished off by a Japanese flotilla commanded by Admiral Togo, which was accomplished by December 9, 1904. The decimation of the Russian fleet essentially doomed the defenders in Port Arthur, as it left the garrison with no chance of rescue; they surrendered less than month later. This outcome set the tone for the rest of the war, as it was to be the first of many crushing Japanese victories over the Russian forces, leaving Japan as the dominant power in the Far East. The inset map in the lower centre, shows a close-up view of the Siege of Port Arthur, but taken from an earlier juncture, before the Russian and Japanese fleets had enjoined combat.

The present map would likely have been sold at newsstands and in bookshops in order to allow Japanese readers to geographically follow the war, correctly placing the events as described in newspapers. Due to the telegraph, photography and the presence of many imbedded reporters, the Russo-Japanese War was one of the first major conflicts to be covered in real-time, and the Japanese public had an insatiable thirst for battle news, brimming with national pride due to the stunning success of their forces.

The present broadside map is extremely rare. Its large size and fragile nature would have seen that it had a very low survival rate. We cannot find a reference to the map, let alone the current whereabouts of another example, although we can trace a 2016 sales record for what appears to be different edition of the broadside, featuring an alternative inset in the lower part of the work.

While we have encountered many maps of the Russo-Japanese War in various forms, created in several different countries, the present work is perhaps the most extraordinary.

The Russo-Japanese War: The Rise of the First Modern Asian Superpower

The Russo-Japanese War was one of the great global military events of the generation leading up to World War I and was one of the first conflicts to be covered in almost real-time by the world media through photography and breaking news delivered by telegraph.

To make a long story short, by the beginning of the 20th century, Russia and the newly hyperindustrialized Meiji Japan had expanded their zones of control, or influence, in the Far East for decades, with their gains coming largely at the expense of China. Inevitably, Russia and Japan came to loggerheads in Manchuria. Japan coveted the entire region, while Russia was building the Trans-Siberian Railway through the area, having founded the great inland hub of Harbin (in 1898) and acquiring the fine harbour of Port Arthur (today the Lüshunkou District of the city of Dalian), in the same year. Simply put, there was not room for both great powers in Manchuria, and something would have to give.

Japan initiated the Russo-Japanese War (February 8, 1904 – September 5, 1905), deploying its large, well-trained military, backed by the most modern equipment, against Russia’s Chinese outposts. Russia was caught off guard, while severely underestimating Japan’s capabilities. Officials in St. Petersburg simply could not believe that an ‘Asian’ country could defeat a leading European power in a modern conflict.

In the opening salvo, the Japanese mounted a ‘sneak attack’, shelling Russian ships off Port Arthur (without besieging the city), even before a declaration of war was made. Czar Nicholas II considered this to be a dishonourable act, setting an ugly tone for the conflict.

Through the early months of 1904, the Japanese moved massive forces onto Manchuria, while Russian mobilization was slow. Taking Port Arthur was the prime Japanese objective, for as long as the base remained in Russian hands, none of the Japanese gains in Manchuria would be secure.

The Siege of Port Arthur (August 1, 1904 to January 2, 1905) was one of the great global military events of the generation leading up to World War I and was one of the first to be covered in almost real-time by the world media through photography and breaking news delivered by telegraph.

A Japanese force of 150,000 men, under General Count Nogi Maresuke, one of the most revered Meiji commanders, surrounded Port Arthur beginning on August 1, 1904. The city was defended by 50,000 Russian troops, armed with 506 heavy guns, commanded by Major-General Baron Anatoly Stoessel, considered a rather lacklustre leader. The Japanese were initially overconfident, believing that since they had easily taken Port Arthur from China in 1894, that the city would once again fall quickly. This assumption was wrong, as in the previous six years, the Russians had made Port Arthur into one of the most heavily fortified sites in the world.

During what was by far and away the longest and bloodiest aspect of the entire war, Port Arthur was subjected to a constant barrage of heavy ordnance, while the Russians returned fire upon the Japanese lines, often to devastating effect. One of the shocking new inventions used in the siege was the 28-inch howitzer that could lodge 217 kg shells over 8 kilometres!

The events of the siege were followed daily by millions of newspaper readers across the globe. The Russians, running out of supplies and ammunition, finally surrendered to Count Nogi on January 2, 1905. The toll of siege was astounding, the Russians suffered 31,000 casualties, while the Japanese endured 57,000.

Next, at the Battle of Mukden (Shenyang) (February 19 to March 10, 1905), one of the largest land battles in the world fought between 1813 and WWI, a Japanese army of 270,000 men clashed with a Russian for of 340,000 troops. The Japanese decisively defeated the Russians, giving them control over the land war.

In a “Hail Mary” attempt to reset things, Czar Nicholas II sent a fleet consisting of 38 of the Russian Navy’s best and most modern ships all way the from St. Petersburg to the Far East. However, the Russian flotilla was intercepted in the waters between Korea and Japan by a Japanese fleet of 89 ships, which proceeded to utterly decimate the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima (May 27-28, 1905). This defeat knocked Russia out of the war, and facing a rebellion at home, the czar sued for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Portsmouth (September 5, 1905). This agreement confirmed Japan as the foremost power in the Far East until World War II. Its victory stunned the world, as it represented the first time that an Asian country had defeated a major European power in modern times.

At the Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan cemented its place as the preeminent power in the Far East. From Russia, Japan gained control over Southern Manchuria (extending from Port Arthur up to Changchun, including the major industrial centre of Mukden (Shenyang), as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island (Karafuto). These prizes gave Japan access to vast agrarian and mineral resources that it needed to fuel its industrial economy. However, it also led Japan down the road of militarism and over-confidence that ended in the disaster of World War II.

References: N/A – Broadside Seemingly Unrecorded.

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