Siege of Port Arthur

Siege of Port Arthur

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Siege of Port Arthur
partof=the Russo-Japanese War

caption=Russian 500 pound shell exploding near the Japanese siege guns, near Port Arthur
date=30 July 1904 to 2 January 1905
place=at modern Lüshunkou, China
result=Japanese Victory
combatant1=flag|Empire of Japan
combatant2=flagicon|Russia Imperial Russia
commander1=General Maresuke Nogi
commander2=Major-General Anatoly Stoessel
strength1=80,000-150,000 troops
strength2=50,000 troops
casualties1=57,780 killed, wounded, and missing
casualties2=31,306 killed, wounded, and missing

The Siege of Port Arthur ( _ja. 旅順攻囲戦, "Ryojun Kōisen"), 1 August 1904 - 2 January 1905, the deep-water port and Russian naval base at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria, was the longest and most vicious land battle of the Russo-Japanese War.

Port Arthur was widely regarded as one of the strongest fortified positions in the world. However, during the First Sino-Japanese War, General Nogi Maresuke had taken the city from the forces of Qing China in only a few days. The ease of his victory during that previous conflict, and overconfidence by the General Staff in Japan's ability to overcome subsequent improvements made by the Russians during their occupation of the area, led to a much longer campaign with much heavier casualties during the Russo-Japanese War.

The Siege of Port Arthur saw the introduction of much of the technology used in subsequent wars during the 20th century, including massive convert|11|in|mm|sing=on mortars capable of hurling 500 kilogram shells over 8 kilometers, as well as rapid-firing light howitzers, Maxim machine guns, bolt-action magazine rifles, barbed wire entanglements, electric fences, arc lamp searchlights, tactical radio signalling (and, in response, the first military use of radio jamming), hand grenades, trench warfare, and the use of modified naval mines as land weapons.


A major cause of the Russo-Japanese War was the leasing of Port Arthur by the weak Qing government of China to Russia after the Triple Intervention of Russia, France and Germany just three days after the Treaty of Shimonoseki had confirmed Japanese possession of these areas as captured during the First Sino-Japanese War. As the only ice-free naval base for Russia in the Far East, control of this territory was of vital strategic importance to Russian plans for further expansion of their empire in Asia.

The Russian forces manning the defenses of Port Arthur under Major-General Baron Anatoly Stoessel consisted of almost 50,000 men and 506 guns (including the crews of the Russian warships in port). He also had the option of removing the guns from the fleet to bolster the land defenses. The total population of Port Arthur at the time was around 87,000, which meant that a very high proportion of the population were combatants.

Russian improvements to the defenses of Port Arthur had been planned by Crimean War hero, General Eduard Totleben, who had designed a multi-perimeter layout with overlapping fields of fire and making the best possible use of the natural terrain. However, many of the redoubts and fortifications were still unfinished, as considerable resources were either in very short supply or had been diverted to improving the fortifications at Dalny, further north on the Liaodong Peninsula.

The outer defense perimeter of Port Arthur consisted of a line of hills, including Hsiaokushan and Takushan near the Ta-ho River in the east, and Namakoyama, Akasakayama, 174-Meter Hill, 203-Meter Hill and False Hill in the west. All of these hills were heavily fortified. Approximately 1.5 kilometers behind this defensive line was the original stone Chinese wall, which encircled the Old Town of Lushun from the south to the Lun-ho River at the northwest. The Russians had continued the line of the Chinese wall to the west and south, enclosing the approaches to the harbor and the New Town of Port Arthur with concrete forts, machine gun emplacements, and connecting trenches.

General Stoessel withdrew to Port Arthur on 30 July 1904. Facing the Russians was the Japanese Third Army, about 90,000 strong, backed by 474 artillery guns, under the command of General Baron Nogi Maresuke.

The Battle

Battle of the Orphan Hills

The shelling of Port Arthur began on 7 August 1904 by a pair of land-based convert|4.7|in|mm|sing=on guns, and was carried on intermittently until 19 August 1904. The Japanese fleet also participated in shore bombardment, while in the northeast the Japanese army prepared to attack first the two semi-isolated hills protruding from the outer defense parameter: convert|600|ft|m|sing=on high Takushan (Big Orphan Hill) and the smaller Hsuaokushan (Little Orphan Hill). These hills were not heavily fortified, but had steep slopes and were fronted by the Ta River, which had been dammed by the Russians to provide a stronger obstacle. The hills commanded a view over almost a kilometer of flat ground to the Japanese lines, and it was thus essential for the Japanese to take these hills to complete their encirclement of Port Arthur.

After pounding the two hills from 04:30 in the morning until 19:30 at night, General Nogi launched a frontal infantry assault, which was hampered by heavy rain, poor visibility and dense clouds of smoke. The Japanese were able to advance only as far as the forward slopes of both hills, and many soldiers drowned in the Ta River. Even the night attacks resulted in unexpectedly high casualties, as the Russians used powerful searchlights to expose the attackers to artillery and machine gun cross-fire. 

Undeterred, Nogi re-opened an artillery bombardment the following day, 8 August 1904, but his assault stalled again, this time due to heavy fire from the Russian fleet led by the cruiser "Novik". Nogi ordered his men to press on regardless of casualties. Despite some confusion in orders behind the Russian lines, which resulted in some units abandoning their posts, numerous Russian troops held on tenaciously, and the Japanese finally managed to overrun the Russian positions mostly through sheer superiority in numbers. Takushan was captured at 20:00 hours, and the following morning, 9 August 1904, Hsiaokushan also fell to the Japanese.

Gaining these two hills cost the Japanese 1280 killed and wounded. The Japanese Army complained bitterly to the Navy about the ease with which the Russians were able to obtain naval fire support, and in response the Japanese Navy brought in a battery of 12-pound guns, with a range sufficient to ensure that there would be no recurrence of a Russian naval sortie.

The loss of the two hills, when reported to the Tsar, caused him to consider the safety of the Russian Pacific Fleet trapped at Port Arthur, and he sent immediate orders to Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, in command of the fleet after the death of Admiral Stepan Makarov, to join the squadron at Vladivostok. Vitgeft put to sea at 08:30 on 10 August 1904 and engaged the waiting Japanese under Admiral Togo Heihachiro in was to become known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea.

On 11 August 1904, the Japanese sent an offer of a temporary cease-fire into Port Arthur, for the Russians to permit all non-combatants to leave under a guarantee of safety. The offer was rejected, but the foreign military observers all decided to leave for safety on 14 August 1904.

Battle of 174 Meter Hill

At noon on 13 August 1904, General Nogi launched a photo reconnaissance balloon from the Wolf Hills, which the Russians unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down. Nogi was reportedly very surprised at the lack of coordination of the Russian artillery efforts, and he decided to proceed with a direct frontal assault down the Wantai Ravine, which, if successful, would carry Japanese forces directly into the heart of the city. Given his previous high casualty rate and his lack of heavy artillery, the decision created controversy in his staff; however, Nogi was on orders to take Port Arthur as quickly as possible.

After sending a message to the garrison of Port Arthur demanding surrender (which was immediately refused), the Japanese began their assault at dawn on 19 August 1904. The main thrust was directed at 174 Meter Hill, with flanking and diversionary attacks along the line from Fort Sung-shu to the Chi-Kuan Battery. The Russian defensive positions on 174 Meter Hill itself were held by the 5th and 13th East Siberian Regiments, reinforced by sailors, under the command of Colonel Tretyakov, a veteran of the Battle of Nanshan.

Just as he had done at the Battle of Nanshan, Tretyakov, although having his first line of trenches overrun, tenaciously refused to retreat and held control of 174 Meter Hill despite severe and mounting casualties. On the following day, 20 August 1904, Tretyakov asked for reinforcements but, just as at Nanshan, none were forthcoming. With more than half of his men killed or wounded and with his command disintegrating as small groups of men fell back in confusion, Tretyakov had no choice but to withdraw, and 174 Meter Hill was thus overrun by the Japanese. The assault on 174 Meter Hill alone had cost the Japanese some 1,800 killed and wounded and the Russians over 1,000.

The assaults on the other sections of the Russian line had also cost the Japanese heavily, but with no results and no ground gained. When Nogi finally called off his attempt to penetrate the Wantai Ravine on 24 August 1904, he had only 174 Meter Hill and the West and East Pan-lung to show for his loss of more than 16,000 men. With all other positions remaining firmly under Russian control, Nogi at last decided to abandon frontal assaults in favor of a protracted siege.

On 25 August 1904, the day after Nogi’s last assault had failed, Marshal Ōyama Iwao engaged the Russians under General Aleksey Kuropatkin at the Battle of Liaoyang.

The siege

Having failed in his attempts to penetrate the Port Arthur fortifications by direct assault, Nogi now ordered sappers to construct trenches and tunnels under the Russian forts in order to explode mines to bring down the walls. By now, Nogi had also been reinforced by additional of artillery and 16,000 more troops from Japan, which partially compensated for the casualties sustained in his first assaults. However, the major new development was the arrival of the first battery of huge Krupp 11-inch siege howitzers, replacing those lost on the "Hitachi-Maru" disaster. The massive Krupp howitzers could throw a 227 kilogram shell over 9 kilometers, and Nogi at last had the firepower necessary to make a serious attempt against the Russian fortifications. The huge howitzer shells were nicknamed "roaring trains" by the Russian troops (for the sound they made just before impact), and during their period at Port Arthur over 35,000 of these shells were fired. The Krupp howitzers had originally been installed in shore batteries in forts overlooking Tokyo Bay and Osaka Bay, and had been intended for anti-ship operations.

While the Japanese set to work in the sapping campaign, General Stoessel continued to spend most of his time writing complaining letters to the Tsar about lack of cooperation from his fellow officers in the navy. The garrison in Port Arthur was starting to experience serious outbreaks of scurvy and dysentery due to the lack of fresh food.

Nogi now shifted his attention to the Temple Redoubt and the Waterworks Redoubt (also known as the Erhlung Redoubt) to the east, and to 203 Meter Hill and Namakoyama to the west. Strangely, at this time neither Nogi nor Stoessel seem to have realized the strategic importance of 203 Meter Hill: its unobstructed views of the harbor would (if taken by the Japanese) have enabled them to control the harbor and to fire on the Russian fleet sheltering there. This fact was only brought to Nogi's attention when he was visited by General Kodama Gentaro, who immediately saw that the hill was the key to the whole Russian defense.

By mid-September the Japanese had dug over eight kilometers of trenches and were within 70 meters of the Waterworks Redoubt, which they attacked and captured on 19 September 1904. Thereafter they successfully took the Temple Redoubt, while another attacking force was sent against both Namakoyama and 203 Meter Hill. The former was taken that same day, but on 203 Meter Hill the Russian defenders cut down the dense columns of attacking troops with machine gun and cannon fire in swathes. The attack failed, and the Japanese were forced back, leaving the ground covered with their dead and wounded. The battle at 203 Meter Hill continued for several more days, with the Japanese gaining a foothold each day, only to be forced back each time by Russian counter-attacks. By the time General Nogi abandoned the attempt, he had lost over 3500 men. The Russians used the respite to begin strengthening the defenses on 203 Meter Hill yet further, while Nogi began a prolonged artillery bombardment of the town and those parts of the harbor within range of his guns.

Nogi attempted yet another mass “human wave” assault on 203 Meter Hill on 29 October 1904, which, if successful, was intended to be a present for the Meiji Emperor's birthday. However, aside from seizing some minor fortifications, the attack failed after six days of hand-to-hand combat, leaving Nogi with the deaths of an additional 124 officers and 3611 soldiers to report to his Emperor instead of a victory.

The onset of winter did little to slow the intensity of the battle. Nogi received additional reinforcements from Japan, including 18 more Krupp convert|11|in|mm|sing=on howitzers, which were manhandled from the railway by teams of 800 soldiers along an eight-mile (13 km) long narrow gauge track that had been laid expressly for that purpose. These howitzers were added to the 450 other guns already in place. One innovation of the campaign was the centralization of the Japanese fire control, with the artillery batteries connected to the field headquarters by miles of telephone lines.

Now well aware that the Russian Baltic Fleet was on its way, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters fully understood the necessity of destroying what Russian ships were still serviceable at Port Arthur. It thus became essential that 203 Meter Hill be captured without further delay, and political pressure began to mount for Nogi’s replacement.

Battle of 203 Meter Hill

The Russians defenders entrenched on the summit of 203 Meter Hill were commanded by Colonel Tretyakov, and were organized into five companies of infantry with machine gun detachments, a company of engineers, a few sailors and a battery of artillery. The defenses of the hill itself, although having taken a pounding during the previous attacks, were still intact. As well as the natural strength of its elevated position with steep sides, it was protected by a massive redoubt and two keeps, and completely surrounded by electrified barbed wire entanglements. It was also connected to the neighboring strongholds on False Hill and Akasakayama by trenches. The name “203-Meter Hill” is actually a misnomer, as the hill consists of two peaks (203 meters and 210 meters high, and 140 meters apart) connected by a sharp ridge. On top of the 203 meter peak was the fortified Russian command post in reinforced concrete.

After his two costly set-backs in attempting to take 203 Meter Hill during October, Nogi had been saved from court-martial only through the unprecedented personal intervention by Emperor Meiji. However, Field Marshal Oyama Iwao found the continuing unavailability of the 3rd Army's manpower to be intolerable, and sent General Kodama Gentaro to apply strong pressure on Nogi to take either drastic action, or to relieve him of command. Nogi thus had no alternative but to attempt one more all-out assault on 203 Meter Hill, this time regardless of the cost.

By this time, after weeks of tunneling, the Japanese sappers were underneath the main defense perimeter and on 26 November 1904, (coincidentally the same day that the Russian Baltic Fleet was entering the Indian Ocean), Nogi ordered his forces to recommence their attack. Direct frontal assaults on both Fort Erhlung and Fort Sungshu were once again beaten back by the Russian defenders. Japanese casualties were officially 4000 men, but unofficially perhaps twice as high. Russian General Roman Kondratenko took the precaution of stationing snipers to shoot any of his front line troops attempting to abandon their positions. At 08:30 on 28 November 1904, with massive artillery support, Japanese troops again attempted an assault up the sides of both Akasakayama and 203 Meter Hill. Over 1000 of the convert|500|lb|abbr=on shells from the convert|11|in|mm|sing=on Krupp howitzers were fired in a single day to support this attack. The Japanese reached as far as the Russian line of barbed wire entanglements by daybreak and held their ground throughout the following day, while their artillery kept the defenders busy by a continuous bombardment. Nonetheless, the Japanese forces suffered serious losses, as the Russian defenders were well positioned to use hand grenades and machine guns against the tightly packed mass of Japanese soldiers.

The battle continued throughout the following days with very heavy hand-to-hand combat. Finally, at 10:30 on 5 December 1904, after another massive artillery bombardment, the Japanese managed to overrun 203 Meter Hill, finding only a handful of defenders still alive on the summit. The Russians launched two counter-attacks to retake the hill, both of which failed, and by 17:00, 203 Meter Hill was securely under Japanese control.

For Japan, the cost of capturing this landmark was great, with over 8,000 dead and wounded in the final assault alone. For General Nogi, the cost of capturing 203 Meter Hill was made even more poignant when he received word that his last surviving son had been killed in action during the assault. The Russians, who had no more than 1500 men on the hill at any one time, lost over 6,000 killed and wounded.

Destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet

From the vantage point on 203 Meter Hill overlooking Port Arthur harbor, Nogi could now bombard the Russian fleet by relocating his heavy convert|11|in|mm|sing=on howitzers with 500-kilogram armor-piercing shells on the summit. This done, he systematically started to sink the Russian ships within range.

On 5 December 1904, the battleship "Poltava" was destroyed, followed by the battleship "Retvizan" on 7 December 1904, the battleships "Pobeda" and "Peresvyet" and the cruisers "Pallada" and "Bayan" on 9 December 1904. The battleship "Sevastopol", although hit 5 times by convert|11|in|mm|sing=on shells, managed to move out of range of the guns. Stung by the fact that the Russian Pacific Fleet had been sunk by the army and not by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and with a direct order from Tokyo that the "Sevastopol" was not to be allowed to escape, Admiral Togo sent in wave after wave of destroyers in six separate attacks on the sole remaining Russian battleship. After 3 weeks, the "Sevastopol" was still afloat, having survived 124 torpedoes and having sunk two Japanese destroyers and damaged six others. The Japanese had meanwhile lost the cruiser "Takasago" to a mine outside the harbor.

On the night of 2 January 1905, after Port Arthur surrendered, Captain Nikolai Essen of the "Sevastopol" had the crippled battleship scuttled in 30 fathoms of water by opening the seacocks on one side, so that the ship would sink on its side and could not be raised and salvaged by the Japanese.

The surrender

Following the loss of the Pacific Fleet, the rationale for holding onto Port Arthur was questioned by Stoessel and Foch in a council on 8 December 1904, but the idea of surrender was rejected by the other senior officers. Japanese trench and tunnel warfare continued. With the death of General Kondratenko on 15 December 1904 at Fort Chikuan, Stoessel appointed the incompetent Foch in his place. On 18 December 1904, the Japanese exploded an 1800 kilogram mine under Fort Chikuan, which fell that night. On 28 December 1904, mines under Fort Erhlung were detonated, destroying that fort as well.

On 31 December 1904, a series of mines were exploded under Fort Sungshu, the sole surviving major fortress, which surrendered that day. On 1 January 1905, Wantai finally fell to the Japanese. On the same day, Stoessel and Foch sent a message to a surprised General Nogi, offering to surrender. None of the other senior Russian staff had been consulted, and notably Smirnov and Tretyakov were outraged. The surrender was accepted and signed on 2 January 1905.

With this, the Russian garrison was taken into captivity, and civilians were allowed to leave, but the Russian officers were given the choice of either going into POW camps with their men or being given parole on the promise of taking no further part in the war. In total 868 officers, 23,491 soldiers and 9,000 sailors, together with 16,000 sick and wounded, surrendered to the Japanese. The Japanese casualties were later officially listed as 57,780 killed, wounded or missing.

The Japanese were astounded to find that a huge store of food and ammunition remained in Port Arthur, which implied that Stoessel had surrendered long before the fight was over. Stoessel, Foch and Smirnov were court-martialed on their return to St Petersburg.

As for Nogi, after leaving a garrison in Port Arthur, he led the surviving bulk of his army of 120,000 men north to join Marshal Oyama at the Battle of Mukden.

Impact on history

The capture of Port Arthur and the subsequent Japanese victories at the Battle of Mukden and the Battle of Tsushima contributed to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt's efforts to arbitrate a peace agreement, which resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War. The loss of the war in 1905 also led to major internal de-stabilisation within Imperial Russia, (see: Russian revolution of 1905) including Bloody Sunday and leading to constitutional reform such as the implementation of the Duma.


* Connaughton, Richard (2003). "Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear". Cassell. ISBN 0-304-36657-9
* Kowner, Rotem (2006). "Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War". Scarecrow. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5
* Repington, Charles (1905). "The War in the Far East, 1904-1905". London, 1905.
* Sedwick, F.R. (1909). "The Russo-Japanese War". Macmillan.
* Graham J. Morris (2005) " [ Port Arthur - The Siege] " available at

External links

* [ The Russo-Japanese War Research Society]

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