The Russo-Japanese War, 1901
In Korea, the Japanese continued their relentless push towards Seoul. With the Korean Army pulled back to prepare the defences at Seoul, the only force opposing the Japanese was the Righteous Army, a force of peasants armed with muskets and primitive weapon. Despite a continual flood of volunteers, their complete lack of training and weaponry left the Koreans at a bad disadvantage. Massing their forces near Osan, to the South of Seoul, they decided their best chance was to ambush the weaker of the two Japanese forces before they could unite. Unfortunately for the Koreans, Japanese scouts alerted their commanders to the enemy movements, and they knew where the Koreans would be waiting. Once their artillery was in position, they pounded the Righteous Army for several hours, killing many of them and causing more to flee. After the artillery stopped, the Japanese infantry advanced. The defenders that remained fought to the last man, however this action proved more symbolic than effective. For the cost of nearly a thousand men, the Japanese had crushed the last organised resistance before Seoul itself.
(Members of the ragtag Righteous Army)
Following this massacre, those who had numbered within the Righteous Army continued to harass the Japanese supply lines and perform hit and run attacks, however, their lack of organisation rendered many of their efforts futile. By the end of spring the Japanese armies had completed their march, and dubbed the Army of Korea they began to invest Seoul.
[-5000 regulars from Japan. Righteous Army crushed.]
(Japanese soldiers on their way to Seoul.)
In Late May, the Japanese noticed French ships sailing into the Yellow Sea. While they were allies of the Russians, they had not made a declaration against Japanese and so initially no effort was made to follow them. The Japanese naval commander had assumed that the French were sailing to the Chinese mainland to trade; however, he was surprised to see them set off in the direction of the Korean coast, and so sent a small ship to observe. A day later, the Japanese commander received a report that the French had docked at Inchon and been seen offloading various supplies to the local Koreans. Of particular interest were several crates bearing Russian markings; while the commander could not be sure what was within the crates, it seemed clear to him that the French were supporting the Koreans in their war. While he felt he must act upon this knowledge, he knew he did not have the authority to attack the French. Instead, he bombarded Inchon, hoping to destroy whatever the French may have delivered.
[Some supply reaches Korean forces]
Following their treaty with the Korean Empire, the Russians moved to support their new allies against the Japanese invasion. 300,000 men were mobilised, but many of them had to take the long journey across the Trans-Siberian and those that didn’t were too few to challenge the Japanese without support. Even with increased funding, the express was far from complete; most notably Lake Baikal still had to be crossed be ferry. Aleksey Kuropatkin, the main Russian commander in the Far East, had hoped to use the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway to cut through Manchuria, however, he learnt that this was impossible – The Boxers had chosen to capitalise upon the hostilities between Russia and Japan, and had occupied much of the line. News also reached him that the Chinese appeared to be massing for an assault upon Port Arthur. Upon hearing of this, Kuropatkin ordered his soldiers to march into Manchuria and kill any Boxers they could find. Before the order could be dispatched, an aide advised him that to attack the Chinese would not be wise while the Russians were still committed in Korea. Having to decide between Manchuria and Korea, he rescinded his previous order, and was forced to march his army the long way through Russian territory to reach his destination.
[+300,000 conscripts to Russia.]
(Taking a break from harassing Christians and railways, several Boxers pose for the camera)
Eventually the Russian force, bolstered by the garrison of Vladistock, reached the Tumen River. Bands of Korean volunteers also arrived, wishing to support their Russian allies. Hearing that the Japanese had already begun the siege of Seoul, Kuropatkin rushed his force south with great urgency, forcing the Japanese to divert a large portion of their army to confront the Russians. The Japanese army under Ōyama Iwao was badly outnumbered, able to muster only 150,000 men against the Russian-Korean force 350,000. Yet the Japanese commander knew that his men were well trained and rested in comparison to conscript force of the Allies.
The two forces met some twenty miles north of Seoul where the Japanese had established their position. The better quality of the Japanese gunners clearly showed, as they silenced gun after gun of the Russians, with little in return; this opening action meant that Russian artillery would be ineffectual at best for the duration of the coming battle. Eventually, the infantry engaged, and the Japanese pushed hard against the left flank of the Allied army, gaining ground but at the cost of many lives. In an effort to counter this, General Kuropatkin ordered several units of Korean volunteers as well some Russian units to redeploy from the right flank to their left. At this point, the quality of the Allied force showed its ugly head – morale was suffering from the continual artillery barrage and the redeployment was badly coordinated with few translators available to direct the Koreans. These complications meant the movement caused much of the Allied line to disintegrate into chaos, and realising that his army was in complete disarray the Russian commander ordered a general retreat, establishing his command at Pyongyang. Unable to push against the Russians before they had secured Seoul, the Japanese returned south to settle in for the winter.
[-50,000 conscripts from Russia, -20,000 regulars from Japan]
(Field Marshal Ōyama Iwao inspecting the battlefield.)
The Russians had also sent their Baltic and Black Sea fleets with the aim of uniting with their Pacific Fleet. Unfortunately the British had taken the decision to block the Suez to all ships of war, forcing the Russians to take the long journey round Africa. When the combined fleets, renamed the 2nd Pacific Squadron, reached the Far East, the 1st Pacific Squadron, stationed in Port Arthur, set off to join them under the cover of night. While most of the 1st Pacific safely reached their compatriots by dawn, a number of small ships found themselves amongst a Japanese squadron stationed off the coast of Korea. Realising their hopelessness, these ships promptly surrendered to the Japanese. Apart from this setback, the operation was generally considered a success, and the combined Russian Pacific Fleet then set about blockading the supply from Japan to the Korean peninsula.
[-5 small ships from Russia, +5 small ships to Japan. Japanese supply lines strained.]
In an effort to open a second front, the Japanese sailed 15,000 soldiers north to the Kuril Islands. After securing the undefended islands for Japan, they chose to rest and resupply, so as to be prepared for their next destination.
(The current holiday destination for thousands of Japanese soldiers)