Few people other than specialist historians know about the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, but despite this it’s a claimant to be one of the most significant wars of modern times.
It was fought as a result of Japan and Russia both having imperial ambitions to rule Korea and Manchuria, and against all expectation Japan won a decisive victory on land and sea, utterly destroying the Russian fleet.
This was the first time that an Asian country had defeated a European nation in battle, and presaged the rise of technologically advanced East Asia.
Buoyed by their stunning military victory, Japan became increasingly nationalistic in the short term and over subsequent decades, which led to ever greater imperial ambitions to control and conquer all of East Asia, and thus to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour that marked the entry of both Japan and the USA into World War II.
From a Russian perspective, the humiliating defeat by Japan added a lot of fuel to the already simmering Russian Revolution of 1905 against the rule of Tsar Nicholas the 2nd; just over a decade later, this discontent boiled over into the full-blown 1917 Russian Revolution, resulting in Communist rule and the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Want to learn more? In this episode of Empire Builders we explore the last hurrah of Europe’s Imperial dynasties – in France, Russia, and the Austrian Habsburg empire.