Shenyang, China (1905 AD)
The Battle of Mukden was the climactic engagement of the Russo-Japanese War for control of northeastern China. It was a landmark battle for several reasons: First, it was the largest battle fought using modern weaponry between the Napoleanic Wars and World War I. Second, it was the first time in history an Asian power fielded a truly massive, modern force and defeated a similarly armed and prepared European power in open battle. Finally, it was the first battle to fully demonstrate the massive casualties that came with the use of fully modernized weaponry. The victory at Mukden left no doubt that Japan had joined the great nations of Europe as a world power.
Towards the end of the 19th century, two latecoming powers were beginning to assert themselves in the Far East: Russia, which had slowly been expanding its empire eastwards for years, and Japan, who wanted to secure and increase its territory on the continent. By 1900, the ambitions of these two empires clashed in Manchuria, where Russia sought a warm water seaport on the Pacific.
In 1904, the conflict broke out into open war, the largest such war between modern powers since the Franco-Prussian War thirty years earlier. Although the proximate cause of the war was Russian territorial ambition in the Pacific, it was the Japanese that initiated the conflict. Japan launched its campaign without a declaration of war, and quickly won a series of military and naval victories which securedPort Arthur for the Empire.
Russia fought back with a series of delaying actions as they slowly withdrew and waited for reinforcements from the west. Finally, in February 1905, both sides prepared for a decisive showdown, which came at Mukden. Essentially a trench warfare battle, the fighting was fierce and lasted for over two weeks as the Japanese slowly encircled the Russians.
By March 9, the situation was becoming hopeless, and the Russians were forced into a full retreat. The casualties on both sides were horrific. Over 160,000 were killed, wounded or captured, with over 25% losses on each side. This was later seen as a foreshadowing of the destructive battles to come a decade later during World War I. Nevertheless the Japanese were the clear victors, and the campaign led to Japan’s securing Manchuria in the lead-up to the World Wars.
The Battle of Mukden was essentially a fight between two colonial powers on the territory of a third party (China). Because of this, there was not surprisingly little interest in either preserving or memorializing the battlefield. However, the field can still be visited, and there yet remains traces of the trenches and defensive works scattered around.
The Mukden battlefield is located a few miles outside of the modern-day city of Shenyang, a little over 300 miles northeast of Beijing. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.cnto.org (official tourism website for China).
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