The Japan-Russia War by Sydney Tyler is a book that must be graded on a curve since it was written in 1905. It is not only written in the style of the time, it was written not long after the end of the war and didn’t have the benefit of documentation and information that would come later. Tyler tells the story of the Japan-Russia War (now known as the Russo-Japanese War), giving a good description of the causes of the war, the naval battles, and the land battles. Unfortunately, he blows through the diplomacy that ended the war; most of the final chapter consists of the text of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the war. It is both informative and entertaining; despite the older style of writing and vocabulary I still found it easy to read and follow. The battles are well described and seem to be well analyzed. As a History geek, I found it interesting to read a book in which the battles were compared to those from wars such as the American Civil War, Boer Wars, and the Franco-Prussian War. One big problem with The Japan-Russia War is its lack of objectivity; the author is clearly biased toward Japan, early on it’s almost over the top. With that in mind, a lot of his criticism of the Russians is warranted because the Japanese were better prepared and performed to a higher level than the Russians. Maps are an issue in this book, but mainly because they are the original 1905 maps; since a lot of the geography of Korea and Manchuria where the battles occurred won’t be familiar to most readers, it would probably be a good idea to have an atlas or Google Maps handy when reading.
The Japan-Russia War gets you thinking about wars that were to come. It really gives you an idea of how warfare was developing as World War I approached. You can see in the land battles between Russia and Japan the seeds of how World War I battles would be. You also get foreshadowing of the World War I naval war in the naval battles off of Port Arthur and at Tsushima. Looking ahead at World War II, you wonder how the Allies maintained contempt for Japan’s military abilities. The Japanese were clearly more prepared for the war, their leadership was better, and they performed brilliantly on both land and sea. There are parallels that can be seen between Port Arthur and Pearl Harbor. At the same time, given how the Russians performed during the war, you can see how the Japanese developed a superiority complex toward Western militaries.
The Japan-Russia War has issues, but overall it really is worth reading if you’re interested in the Russo-Japanese War and how warfare developed leading into World War I. If it were written in the modern day, I wouldn’t rate it high, but considering when it was written I’m giving it four stars. There aren’t many books on the subject and this one definitely expanded my knowledge of the war.