Russo-Japanese War Historical
FOREIGN OBSERVERS IN MANCHURIA
recently read an excellent article on the Russo-Japanese War written by Dr John Greenwood for ‘Army History’. He looks at the
differing accounts of US military observers during the war. I have picked out
some of the more interesting elements here which might be useful in recreating
the war on the wargame table.
Britain, the US sent military observers to each side of the Russo-Japanese War,
amongst them John J Persing. They either personally saw or were present during some
of the major battles such as Liaoyang, the Shaho, Sandepu (Heikoutai) and Mukden.
A unique feature of the fighting in Manchuria was the frequency of night
actions. Observers noted that the Japanese use of night attacks and manoeuvres was
something to be expected because of the destructiveness of modem fire arms. The
Japanese in particular used the cover of darkness to bring up and deploy troops
close to the Russian lines and thus to escape the losses that would have
resulted from similar movements during daylight hours. As a consequence, it was
seen by observers as one of the most significant development of the war.
defensive work inspired comment that ‘it may be truthfully said of both sides
that the soldiers dug when they did not march or fight.’ Even on the Japanese
side, observers saw that ‘once in the presence of an enemy the entrenching tool
seemed next in importance to the rifle and ammunition. The rule of both sides
seemed to be always to cover their positions with entrenchments as soon as
taken up, even when held only for a short time’.
the Manchurian battlefields, the artillery of both sides, though not of the
latest quick-firing designs, played a larger role in the final decision of
battle than ever before. Japanese artillery was frequently massed on Russian
defences to obtain an intensity of fire hitherto unknown in modem warfare.
Artillery fire on opposing batteries, as well as on the defenders, covered
infantry attacks. The defending infantry was more and more forced to entrench
for protection both from artillery and infantry fire, while defending artillery
exacted very heavy losses among the ranks of the attackers. All in all,
artillery had come to assume a place in battle second only to that of the
infantry, and some observers even questioned whether it was not now the major
key to success in modern battle. The Americans saw little to leam technically
in Manchuria, aside from the new importance of high explosive shells and the
need for heavier caliber artillery and shells to destroy field fortifications. However, they reversed their stands
when it came to tactical employment of artillery. They saw as one of the primary
lessons of the war the growing necessity for indirect rather than direct
artillery fire. The range of opposing artillery and infantry weapons led to
serious losses if and when batteries deployed in the open to use direct fire.
Machine Guns. It was agreed that machine guns ‘played a useful but not great part in the war. Colonel Macomb thought ’they were limited to 2,000 yards range and were helpless against artillery’. Addressing a point then in dispute, he equated the machine gun's fire to that of 50 infantry men, not the 100 some experts claimed. He also pointed out that it took 12 infantrymen to handle the gun to get the added firepower, so the net increase was equal to 38 infantrymen. Machine guns were to be used in pairs, not singly, and their most valuable quality was that they supplied ‘a means of suddenly and unexpectedly increasing the volume of fire without overcrowding the firing line, thus extending the scope and flexibility of the fire actions’. Macomb concluded that the gun's ‘greatest physical and moral effect is produced when it is employed suddenly against massed troops...or in enfilading lines of any kind’. Military experts already appreciated the effect of machine guns as a defensive weapon, but Macomb also thought it was equally valuable on me offensive ‘to an active moving force which knows how to use it’.
US Army Impact. Observations
and lessons from the Russo-Japanese War were published in the US in 1906 and
1907 and generated nearly ten years of intense but inconclusive debate about
its exact military meaning, but few lessons were ever really learned. ‘Prior to
the present European War there does not seem to have been a very thorough
appreciation of the lessons of the Manchurian War in some European armies or I might
say in our own.’ Frank Vandiver, in his biography of Pershing, concludes of his
experience in Manchuria; ‘He had gone to Manchuria an accomplished small-unit
leader, a master of light tactics; he came out skilled in the management of
‘The U.S. Army Military Observers with the Japanese
Army during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)’, John T. Greenwood, Army
History, No. 36 (Winter 1996), pp. 1-14, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
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