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Japanese attack Port Arthur, starting Russo-Japanese War

This Day in World History

February 8, 1904

Japanese Attack Port Arthur, Starting Russo-Japanese War


On February 8, 1904, just before midnight, Japanese destroyers entered the harbor of Port Arthur (now Lü-shun, China). Soon after, they unleashed torpedoes against Russian ships in a surprise attack that began the Russo-Japanese War.

The conflict grew over competition between Russia and Japan for territory in both Korea and Manchuria, in northern China. Japan had won Port Arthur, at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula, from China in an 1894–1895 war. Russia joined with other European powers to force it to relinquish the port, however — and then three years later had compelled China to grant the city to it. These actions rankled Japan, as did Russia’s refusal to honor a promise to withdraw troops from Manchuria. Japan decided to go to war.

The attack on Port Arthur resumed in the late morning of February 9, when bigger Japanese ships began shelling the Russian fleet and nearby forts. The Russians put up more resistance than expected, however, and the Japanese ships withdrew.

The attack on Port Arthur was inconclusive, but the rest of the war went largely Japan’s way. The Japanese enjoyed several victories in 1904, seizing Korea in March, and defeating Russian forces twice in Manchuria during the summer. More success followed in 1905, with the surrender of Port Arthur in January, a victory over a large Russian army in Manchuria in March, and a decisive naval battle at Tsushima Strait in May that destroyed the Russian fleet. Russia’s government, facing unrest at home, was forced to seek peace.

The Russo-Japanese War marked the first victory of a non-European nation against a European one in modern times. It also contributed to unrest in Russia that would lead, more than a decade later, to the Russian Revolution.

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