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Microform Collection: Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905

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Tanja Lorkovic
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Published by Primary Source Microfilm

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 marked the first major defeat of a European power by an Asian in the modern era. Tsarism's humiliation on the Pacific was the first in a series of convulsions that would ultimately topple the Romanov dynasty. And the confrontation in Manchuria, with its enormous land battles involving the use of trenches, artillery barrages, and machine gun fire, heralded many of the murderous innovations of the World War I. For these reasons, the conflict that pitted Eurasia's largest land empire against the rising East Asian power is one of the pivotal events of the twentieth century.

Contemporaries in the West paid a great deal of attention to the Russo-Japanese War; journalists, military attaches and others wrote scores of books about the dramatic events in the East that enjoyed a wide readership in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. Yet with the outbreak of the Great War less than ten years later, interest in the confrontation slowed to a trickle. And it remained a backwater of military history for much of the previous century. While Russians continued to study the war, much of what they published was heavily distorted by political imperatives, especially during the Soviet era.

The approaching centenary of the Russo-Japanese War and the increasing attention paid to conflicts outside of Europe is reviving interest worldwide in this historical landmark. Until very recently those studying Russia's role have had to rely on secondary accounts, most of which are either dated or tainted by propaganda. But with the easing of restrictions on scholarship the most important primary source -- the rich archive of the tsarist army itself -- have become accessible.

And now the holdings of Military History section, the crown jewel of the tsarist army's archives of the Japanese War, have been microfilmed. Scholars who are unable to undertake a lengthy stay in Moscow or may be reluctant to hazard periodic closures and the other difficulties of research in Russia can therefore conduct research by consulting this valuable source at their home institution.

In the wake of Russia's defeat against Japan, the Military History section (Voenno-Uchenyi Arkhiv or VUA) gathered a mass of documents to provide the primary source base for the General Staff's official multi-volume history of the war. Although the focus is on the military, the collection also contains much important material dealing with politics and international relations, as well as the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The Military History section's holdings are immense and cover virtually every aspect of the tsarist army's role in the Russo-Japanese War. Here scholars can study intelligence reports and war plans, commanders' reports to Tsar Nicholas II about the Japanese Navy?s surprise attack on Port Arthur, the base's lengthy siege, the major land battles in Manchuria, and the Baltic Fleet's annihilation at Tsushima. The collection also preserves the orders, dispatches, and official correspondence of the senior generals in the field. And the daily logs kept by the staffs of armies, divisions and brigades also provide a wealth of detail about operations in the field.

As a conflict involving over a hundred thousand troops fighting some 8,000 kilometers from the imperial capital, the war's logistical challenges were immense. The Military History section also holds records about the railways, road transport and provisioning in the field. Material about fortifications and operations in the rear are also included.

Another major challenge to the tsarist armies in the East was morale. The political turmoil that ravaged the imperial capital and the countryside in 1905 was paralleled on the front by railway and telegraph worker strikes, revolutionary agitation, mutinies, and an armed rising in the Siberian city of Chita. These events are also well represented in the collection. It even preserves a valuable set of radical woodblock prints (lubki) and St Petersburg newspaper clippings about the unpopular war.

In short, this microfilm collection will prove to be the basic primary source about Russia's role in its war against Japan outside of the archive in Moscow. It will be of tremendous importance to scholars of Russian and East Asian history, as well as the military and international relations.

Scope: Approx. 200 reels

A printed guide with the same title as the microfilm collection is available in both the Microtext Room and the Slavic Reading Room, under the call number:
Microtext Ref. Z2519 R87 2003 (LC)+ Oversize
Slavic Reading Room Ref. Z2519 R87 2002 (LC)+ Oversize.

Sterling Library's hours of operation
LOCATION: SML, Microform (Non-Circulating)
CALL NUMBER: Film B18837