Strategy and Policy Course
John M. Sappenfield
Dr. Pavkovic
10 Jan 2004

Naval War College
Fleet Seminar Program
Seminar 17: The Russo-Japanese War

Essay Question #8: What naval lessons should have been learned by Russia and Japan, respectively as a result of the Russo-Japanese war?

Thesis: The primary lessons learned in the Russo-Japanese War revolved around the countries' status as a Sea Power. Russia did not have any of the elements espoused by A.T. Mahan for a Sea Power and Japan as a nation dependant on the sea had to gain and maintain command of the sea through an integrated national and military campaign plan.


In the Russo-Japanese war there were numerous naval lessons to be learned from the Policy and military strategic levels. This essay focuses at the upper echelon of warfighting for both belligerents.

The primary points the Russians could have learned from their defeat at the hands of the Japanese follow. 1905 era Russia should have learned they were not a nation with the elements required to be a sea power and using national resources in an attempt to be one did not play to their strengths. Second, they failed to establish a valid military strategy (with a supporting naval plan) to support their expansionist policy in Asia.

The Japanese should have learned the value of a national campaign plan that focuses ways and means to achieve a national end. Second, the Japanese should have learned the value of maintaining their sea lines of communication in support of their war effort.

Russian Lessons

Primarily Russia should have learned that they were not a Sea Power and not predisposed to be one. Russia did not contain any of the elements espoused by A.T. Mahan that supported it's position as a Sea Power (Mahan, 28) they were primarily a continental power and were not dependant on maritime commerce for their wealth or existence (Mahan, 29); the Physical Conformation of Russia did not support being a Sea Power, their sea coasts did not offer ready access to markets and the frontiers beyond the coast (Mahan, 35); Russia lacked a suitable coastline or "extent of territory" to support it as a Sea Power (Mahan, 42); the number of population in Russia dependant on the sea does not lend itself to support Russia as a Sea Power (Mahan 44-45); Russian national character was not one of extensive commerce and therefore did not drive the development of seagoing infrastructure that supported Russia as a Sea Power (Mahan, 50); and finally, the government did not offer intelligent direction to naval affairs and so did not support Russia being a Sea Power. (Mahan, 58)

Despite having significant naval assets and a growing requirement based on a policy of national expansion to the east, the basic lack of intelligent direction and elements required of a sea power led Russia to strategic faults that it can learn from as a result of the Russo Japanese War.

The Russians should also have learned that they needed to have a military strategy to support their national policies. After the Sino-Japanese war the Russians sought to expand their territory and influence in China. They forced China to grant a 25-year lease of Port Arthur to them. (Evans and Peattie, 52) The course the Russians pursued was contrary to Japanese vital interests and was bound to bring a Japanese reaction. (Mahan, 1918, 172) That the Japanese would react should have been obvious to the Russians, considering the Japanese were forced to cede those very holdings by the Tripartite Intervention after the Sino-Japanese War. (Evans and Peattie, 52) Russia failed to adequately develop a military strategy that supported their expansionist policy in Asia. This is evident in the lack of a cohesive naval defensive strategy and materially shown by the lack of adequate naval facilities at Port Arthur. The Russian's only port available year round lacked dock facilities to repair their major warships. (Evans and Peattie, 88) Had the Russians not had such a mismatch between their policy and supporting strategy the lack of such key support facilities would not have gone overlooked.

Japanese Lessons

As a nation dependant on the sea for commerce and essential elements of the economy, the Japanese realized the need for a comprehensive campaign plan to protect their vital interests. (Evans and Peattie, 84) In developing this plan, Yamamoto developed the requirements of the fleet, not just to deal with Russia, but also with a possible combined European fleet. (Evans and Peattie, 58) The Japanese navy planned the fleet structure well because the fleet was focused on countering their potential enemies' capabilities and not intentions. (Evans and Peattie, 59) Japan, of the two nations in the Russo-Japanese war best understood the purpose of the fleet, commanding the sea. (Evans and Peattie, 64) They developed a balanced fleet to meet their strategic requirements, in keeping with Mahan's vision of balance. (Evans and Peattie, 59)(Maurer, 4)

The Japanese should have learned the importance of protecting communications on the sea in addition to focusing on defeating the enemy battle fleet. They focused assets on Port Arthur to bottle up the Russian fleet which offered them free communications only as long as the fleet in Vladivostock remained iced in port. (Mahan, 1918, 161) They should have learned the importance of convoy and maritime commerce protection not only as attacks against it had a negative impact on military operations but also a negative impact on their economy and war making potential as a whole. The Russian attacks from Vladivostock on Japanese shipping had a significant negative impact on Japan despite being fairly limited in nature. (Mahan, 1918, 163) Continued or better orchestrated raiding of this nature by the Russians could have severely limited the Japanese ability to wage effective war, while the Russians used the time to mobilize their war making potential. (Mahan, 1918, 153) By the end of the war the Japanese economy was almost exhausted and the disruption caused by Russian commerce raiding played a large role in this. (Corbett, 83) In future conflicts, Japan would have to ensure communications on the sea for her economic well being as well as for purely military operations.


The lessons to Russia and Japan in the Russo-Japanese war were many. An analysis at the national policy level and military strategic level provides the most critical lessons learned from the conflict. The lessons that are most important to Russia are that to be a sea power, lacking Mahan's essential elements, they needed intelligent direction and time. They should have also learned that using their Pacific squadrons as Fleets in Being required they not be decisively defeated in order to allow all aspects of Russian power to be brought to bear in the conflict.

Russia should have learned that becoming a sea power required time and intelligent direction by the government. Russia was a vast country with considerable resources. Compared to other nations, Russia outstripped them in the material capacity to field a world-class navy. Mahan's elements of a nation that define a Sea Power were developed in an age of sail, when the corporate knowledge of the seamen and infrastructure concerning the shipping industry and the institutional understanding of the effects of wind and tide were more important than technology that could be rapidly acquired and implemented. (Maurer, 3) Mahan did not take into account the revolution in naval technology where an active government with the right material resources might leap to parity or ahead of an established Sea Power. (Maurer, 3) Japan serves as an example of a nation that over the course of one or two generations fielded a navy capable of making them a regional power. Over the longer term with a mature infrastructure and intelligent guidance by the government Russia could develop the systems and infrastructure required to support a world class navy, making them a sea power.

The Russians had the requisite force structure in place at Port Arthur and Vladivostock to fulfill their naval strategy of delaying an adversary long enough to allow all elements of national power to be brought to bear. It was executed well by the navy in a fleet preservation or no risk strategy. (Warner and Warner, 218) With increased commerce raiding by the Vladivostock squadron it could have brought the Japanese government to exhaustion and defeat. (Corbett, 88) The failure to defeat the Japanese lies less with the activity level of Pacific naval units than with the Russian Army's inability to mobilize and defeat the Japanese Army.

Although the Japanese developed a sound national strategy in dealing with an expansionist Russia their naval campaign planning lagged behind. The Japanese enjoyed initial success in attacking Russian ships at Chemulpo and Port Arthur. (Warner and Warner, 193,200-201) Despite these successes they did not capitalize on them because there was no integrated plan to follow up and decisively achieve undisputed control of the sea. This is evident in the numerous mining, torpedo attacks, and block ship operations that Togo used in attempting to bottle up the Port Arthur squadron. (Warner and Warner, 229,235) All of these options would have decisively achieved their intended result if integrated into one coordinated operation to maximize the synergistic effects they offered. In this manner a coordinated operation may have removed the Port Arthur squadron from the war right from the outset of operations.

The Russian squadron at Vladivostock caused serious problems for the Japanese, including the loss of shipping and military equipment, such as their siege cannons. (Warner and Warner, 285) While they effectively dealt with the Port Arthur squadron they failed to maintain their lines of communications between China, Korea and Japan. As a result, Japanese shipping fell prey to Russian naval action. (Mahan, 1918, 163) The Japanese should have learned from this the importance of soundly defeating the enemy battle fleet in decisive fleet action and if they refused to give battle then to blockade them in port and deny their ability to disrupt your control of the sea. (Corbett, 165)


The Russo-Japanese war offered many lessons learned to the belligerents. Russia should have learned that lacking the elements outlined by Mahan to be a Sea Power it would take long term, intelligent effort directed by the government to achieve the ability to protect it's vital national interests with naval means.

The Japanese most important lesson from the war is the requirement to plan the national campaign and to have equally well planned and integrated, supporting service campaign plans. If the Japanese government and military learned this lesson in the Pre-World War II era it would have ensured a better integrated Joint national and military strategy to achieve Japanese political ends. Several shortcomings the Japanese experienced in World War Two are directly attributable to having separate service military strategies in achieving the Japanese national policy. A more integrated military strategy would ensure the best use of resources, unity of effort in achieving the national goals, and the best opportunity to capitalize on opportunities presented by their western enemies.


Mahan, A.T. 1918. Retrospect upon the War Between Japan and Russia, extract from Naval Administration and Warfare, Little, Brown and Co.

Mahan, A.T. 1987. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783. New York. Dover Publications, 5th Edition.

Warner, Denis and Warner, Peggy. 2002. The Tide at Sunrise, A history of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905. Portland. Frank Cass Publishers, 2nd Edition.

Corbett, J.S. 1988. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, Annapolis, Md. Naval Institute Press.

Maurer, John, H. 2000. Naval Strategy and World Politics, Selected Reading in Strategy and Policy, United States Naval War College, Selected Readings Vol I.

Evans, D.C and Peattie, M.R. 1997. Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics and technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, pp52-93. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press.

Copyright © 2004 John M. Sappenfield