Oct 30, 2023
Last time we spoke about the conquest of Northern Manchuria. The outbreak of violence all over Manchuria and even across the Amur river resulted in a full scale Russian invasion. Beginning in northern Manchuria, the Russian gradually advanced across the border to first secure endangered Russian pockets of civilians and forces, but soon cities all over northern manchurian were being seized. The Chinese attempted many offensives, but instead of consolidating a large force to defeat each Russian army, they performed numerous simultaneous operations. Hailar, Tsitsihar, Kirin and Haicheng all fell one by one. Manchu generals were dying on the battlefield or committing suicide as Russian detachments ran incredible fast and effective campaigns. Although the Russian string of victories were grand, the Manchu had more forces, more war materials and were fighting for their homelands, the Russians would need even more reinforcements if they were to take the south.
#71 The Russo-Chinese War Part 4: The Conquest of Southern Manchuria
Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.
The fall of Haicheng gave Mishchenko’s men a period of much needed R&R. The number one objective, Mukden could not be taken with the forces at hand, thus the Russians would need to wait for large reinforcements coming over from Europe. For 43 days the men remained active, but they were restless. Everyone was awaiting the arrival of Lt General Subotich, commander of the Russian forces for the Kwantung region. Cossack patrols scoured Manchuria, speaking with local Manchu contacts whom they had known for years. Intelligence in early September indicated, 50,000 well armed troops with 60 Kripp artillery pieces, some Maxim and Nordenfeld machine guns were defending the way between Liaoyang and Mukden. Subotish reached Haicheng on September 21st and would have at his disposal 47 companies, two and half sotnias and 28 artillery pieces, roughly 9000 or so men. The Chinese held numerical superiority and they wielded modern european weapons with vast amounts of war supplies. But the Russians were now acutely aware the Chinese lacked discipline, marksmanship and leadership. The inhabitants of Manchuria had lost faith in their defenders. The Mongols had all but abandoned them. A lot of towns saw their Manchu bannermen as opportunistic plunderers and they began to hide provisions from them. A lot of towns upon seeing incoming Russian forces would hoist white flags to the dismay of the Chinese troops. Chinese militiamen were gradually dissolving back into the populace abandoning the regular troops. Subotich received such intelligence and would use it to his advantage. He made a proclamation in early september “notwithstanding the repeated orders of the military command and the imperial sovereign's desire, proclaimed to everyone, under no circumstances to burn down villages, there are scoundrels who do not hold dear the Tsar’s will and have no regard for other people's property, acquired by sweat of peasants, Chinese though they may be. Such scoundrels will be shot”. With this Subotich won an important psychological victory, for the Manchurian populace were clamoring for peace and the dismissal of their Manchu defenders.
Subotich understood the actions of his enemy as months of campaign information was given to him. The Chinese forces were aggressive until met by Russian advances, whereupon they typical fled. Whenever Russian halted advances, the Chinese regrouped and attacked, this kept going on in cycles. Thus to truly end the enemies' will to fight it would be necessary to pursue them and not let up, depriving them the opportunity to regroup. Subotich planned a three pronged offensive. A central force would attack Anshan; a western force would hit Newchwang and upon defeating it would envelope east to help hit Anshan. The eastern force, more light and mobile would get around the enemy to cut off their retreat.
On September 23rd the western force advanced upon Newchwang led by General Fleisher. They consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 11th east siberian rifle regiments, two sotnias of Verkhneudinsk Cossacks, a infantry battery, a platoon cavalry battery and mobile section of the red cross. Around Newchwang were 6000 Chinese led by General Shou. Newchwang was surrounded by mountains that could conceal troop movements. General Shou chose not to defend the city and instead had his forces perform harassing actions. On September 24th General Fleisher entered the city. Now General Shou expected the Russians to make camp at Newchwang for some time, so he made his own camp only 4 miles away, hoping to perform some more harassing actions. However General Fleisher left only a small garrison and carried on immediately to hasten the envelopment of Anshan where 14,000 Chinese were entrenched. Fleishers men came upon Shou’s quickly and this led Shou to scramble a retreat which turned into a rout. The Chinese planned to withdraw eastward into the Chienshan hills to allow the Russian to go past towards their main force located at Sha-ho. They thought they would come back down the hill and hit the Russian rear, but now they were fleeing directly towards Sha-ho bringing the Russians into their own camp. Mounted Cossacks managed to for 2/3rds of Shous men to scatter in all directions, thus only 2000 of his men reached Sha-ho.
Meanwhile Colonel Artamonov, Subotich’s chief of staff road out personally with two sotnias to perform a reconnaissance of Anshan’s defenses. They rode along the fortified heights forcing the Chinese to open fire from a distance as he sketched the Chinese artillery emplacements. He soon figured out the Chinese had stretched their line going 4.5 miles, the right flank leaned into a hill and their left to a fortified temple. Their trenches were arranged in tiers and held some 14,000 men and perhaps 30 guns. At 5:30am on the 26th the Russian main force was advancing in two columns towards Anshan. The central column commanded by Atramonov consisted of the 13 and 14th rifle regiments, two companies of the 15th east siberian regiment, three and a half batteries, a machine gun battery and a platoon of Verkhneudinsk Cossacks. The right column led by Mishchenko consisted of two companies and two sotnias of railway guards and 4 guns of the 1st Transbaikal cossack battery. Mishchenko’s force was taking a northeast approach going through Tatun, Anshanchan and the Anshan pass. He faced no resistance and was soon 4.5 miles ahead of the main force, so he decided to wait in the Anshan heights. Mishchenko was personally going up a hill to look for a route to bring his artillery up when suddenly the eastern hills exploded with artillery shells and rifle volleys. To the Russians surprise the Chinese had taken to the hills to ambush them and now they could see Manchu bannermen galloping down the slopes as they bellowed horns. The Russians hastily took up positions and Mishchenko unaware how large the enemy forces even were ordered Strakhov and Denison to dislodge the Chinese from the heights. Mishchenk assumed two Cossack sotnias would be up to the task, each merely 40 men or less as many others were on patrol. The 80 men charged up the hills unknowingly into the very center of 14,000 Chinese. Mishchenko sent the rest of his detachment up the hills, and this time the Russians faced real opposition.
The maelstrom of gunfire was so intense the Russians believed the Chinese were attacking them also from their rear. Then unexpectedly the Chinese began to fall back clearing the hills, only rearguard firing was seen. It would turn out, the Russians had panicked so much, their own forces began firing on forward units leading them to believe the Chinese were behind them during the short engagement! Mishchenko began burying the dead as Orlov joined them with the sections of the Red Cross to tend to the wounded. The Chinese had pulled back northwards towards the Sha river, intending to lure the Russian into a huge horseshoe formation formed around the village of Shahopu at the top and the Chienshan hills on the west and east. Together with reserve forces at Mukden and the remnants of the scattered Newchwang detachment the Chinese planned to make a stand.
On paper the Russians had no chance to defeat the Chinese position. They had 53,000 men guarded a 8 mile long horseshoe perimeter. However 3000 of General Shou’s men failed to make it and 14,000 men of the Anshan force arrived too late to join the battle effectively. Yte despite that the Chinese main force was 30,000 strong, absolutely dwarfing the 18.5 companies and 2 sotnias that were employed against them. The Manchu commanders faced another major problem, a all to common one for later Qing dynasty armies. The chinese battalions had been full strength on paper during peacetime, whereupon commanders were pocketing half or more of the salary funds. When the hostilities broke out, they hastily refilled their forces with anyone they could grab, this would account for the poor marksmanship and discipline. There were boys of 15 and men of 50, many bandits who joined eager to plunder but not fight.
With the Russians on his heels, General Shou only got to the Chinese defensive lines on the eve of the battle. Various commanders had position their men at their own discretion as far away as possible from the expected point of attack. Shou attempted to tighten the overextended lines, but many commanders refused to accept his authority. Allegedly many commanders stated “why would we listen to a man who runs away from battle”. Shou’s rash beheadings of several officers because of this, just prior to the outbreak of battle did not have a good effect on morale. In fact his attempts to reform lines properly actually just added more confusion when the battle started.
The Chinese lines were so extended the Russians lacked the numbers to effectively hit the front and flanks. Subotish elected to begin the battle with an artillery duel. His artillery was on his left flank initially, but he quickly moved it to the middle and began pounding each part of the Chinese lines, one after another. Meanwhile his infantry continuously got into assembly positions awaiting a breakthrough in the center. At 6am on the 27th Mishchenko went out with his two companies, two sotnias and 4 guns to hit the enemy positions in the Anshan heights near the Laiao and Sha rivers. He discovered Chinese positions along some mountains. He took his own artillery up a mountain which would later be called Mt Mishchenko where he began a artillery duel. Suddenly his railway guards were being surrounded by Chinese infantry. Grenades and bullets were being tossed everywhere. The Chinese were coming in waves, Mishchenko had made a real blunder. He thought he was attacking an outpost when in fact he was fighting in the midst of 30,000 Chinese. From the tip of Shahopu some 4200 feet away, Chinese artillery were firing upon his artillery. The artillery firing grenades were sending shrapnel everywhere causing a bloody carnage. The Chinese artillery were firing effectively, casualties were mounting and Mishchenkos artillery ammunition was running out. Mishchenko believed his detachments days might finally be over. But the Chinese did not press their attack.
The Chinese continued their bombardment, but did not release a deathblow with their infantry. Enough time passed by for Artamonov to arrive in the sector with a vanguard and by 11am, Mishchenkos artillery was joined by Artamonov’s who also handed over much needed ammunition. Together now 12 guns strong they both fired upon the Chinese and the gun duel was tipping to their favor. It seems the Chinese did not realize how small the force was that was facing them and only pressed their attack when Mishchenko received reinforcements, they lost their opportunity to overrun him. Mishchenko and Artamonov pushed against the Chinese center. General Subotich viewing this unfold unleashed a flank attack and by mid afternoon the Chinese had been dislodged from their formidable position. By nighttime the Chinese were fleeing for Liaoyang.
Some of the best Qing commanders lost at Shahopu such as Generals Yun, Fen and Hsu. They were unable to control their men, who scattered into the countryside and began plundering. The commanders were mortified at the breakdown of discipline and took the men they could to Mukden. Once they reached Mukden, they tendered their resignations to Beijing. Instead of defending the Manchurian capital or negotiate its surrender to preserve what could be preserved, the generals went to work gathering every cart and wagon they could to plunder the banks and treasury. They deserted their troops allowing them to simply scatter across Manchuria and Mongolia. The northern Manchurian detachments headed for Mukden, Tiehling and Fakumen like a swarm of marauders plundering every town and small village along the way. Mostly units formed in Liaoyang province stood their ground against Subotich’s advance.
Subotichs patrols reported the Chinese were entrenching themselves on some hills half way between Shahopu and Liaoyang. At 6:30am on the 28th, General Fleisher advanced with his column trying to get around the right flank and storm the western face of the Liaoyang fortress. Meanwhile Mishchenko departed with his column at 8:20am going through some mountains to get across the left flank and hit the eastern gates of the Liaoyang fortress; and the center column of Colonel Artamonov set out at 8:30 to make a frontal assault. The Chinese sent Manchu cavalry to harass the vanguards of the Russian forces, but Cossack sabers were winning the engagements heavily. Many of these Manchu cavalry units would put up a fight, then rush to the nearest village to hide amongst civilians.
Artamonov’s path took him to a central part of the Liaoyang walls. Artamonov set up his artillery to batter them and distract their attention from the flanking maneuvers. At 2pm, Fleisher approached the western walls. The defenders fired only a few shots, killing around 7 Russian before fleeing eastwards into the mountains. On the other side of the nearby river, Russian artillery was pummeling the walls, forcing the Chinese to abandon many of their modern Krupp and Nordenfeld guns. Once Fleisher was mounting his attack, Artamonov ordered his men to storm the central position, driving the defenders towards a village from which many were firing up Fleishers position. Now finding themselves attacked from two simultaneous fronts, the Chinese fled, abandoning more and more artillery pieces. In around 30 minutes the Russian flag was hoisted over the fortress and Artamonov’s men wasted no time pursuing the fleeing enemy.
Mishchenko meanwhile kept up his bad luck of running directly into heavy opposition. His column was advancing through some mountains and again, unable to see past some heights he had ventured into a large force of 6000 Chinese. The Chinese were those who had fled Shahopu. The feared being encircled so they took up a very overextended line. When Mishchenko saw the Chinese forces he had his artillery rapid fire before tossing two companies to drive the Chinese deeper into the mountains. With orders not to pursue the enemy further, Mishchenko turned to Liaoyang where his exhausted men got a days rest. The Russians only reported 10 deaths and 64 wounded for the battle, again they noted terrible accuracy by the Chinese riflemen to be the reason for low casualties. They also noted many Chinese artillery shells did not explode, so one can expect corruption to be the causation. The Russians found the barracks they once defended and graves of their fallen comrades dug open with their remains tossed everywhere. The Russians were furious to see such a thing, they took all the remains they could find, reburied them that night with full military honors.
Konstantin was at the scene and upon seeing the undug graves he began an investigation. He interrogated some recent POW’s and they told him the gruesome details. Their former comrades had been held at the Liaoyang jail. They were given foul water and stinking excrete for food and were beaten until they ate it. They wounds were not cleaned nor bandaged and they had rampant infections. They soon began to smell so bad, their Chinese guards began to complain. The Chinese jail commander had those with festering wounds decapitated. The prisoners were routinely forbidden to lie down to sleep unless they used the severed heads of their comrades for a pillow. After a few days many of the men used the heads for pillows. Many chinees drew silly faces upon them and made them kiss piglets all over for humiliation. They were tortured horribly, many of them had their limbs cut off slowly and bled out.
With a wild anger in their hearts the Russians now looked to Mukden. Lt General Subotich wasted little time advancing the men to the cradle of the Qing dynasty. Mukden had a population of 200,000 and constituted a major commercial and industrial center for Manchuia. The city was surrounded by 11 miles of outer earth wall and an inner brick wall with towers and gunports. It was around 3 miles in circumference. Intelligence indicated there was a lot of friction between northern and southern China. While Liaoyang may have offered strong resistance, Mukden was expected to be a cake walk. A captured Qing officer told Subotich “if our forces were unable to defend liaoyang, they will abandon Mukden”.
The final offensive began on September 30th and would be spearheaded by Colonel Mishchenko, now reinforced with the 5th Verkhneudinsk Cossack sotnia and a scouting party of the 11th and 14th rifle regiments. Next would be Colonel Dombrovskii with three and a half battalions of infantry, 16 artillery, 4 heavy machine guns, sappers and a squadron of Cossacks, after that the bulk of Subotichs army. The Russians advanced along the imperial highway without any opposition. The Chinese were completely demoralized after the endless string of defeats. Inhabitants of the villages along the way told the Russians the Chinese soldiers had been deserted by their Generals and were withdrawing into the countryside. They also said at first the Chinese soldiers only took food from them, but soon this became open plundering of anything. It seems the Russian proclamation that they would not lift a finger on the civilians had a side effect, the villages began denying food to the chinese troops and this led to conflicts. There of course were many Russians who plundered the Chinese, but most would think of this as depriving the enemy. Upon seeing what the enemy was doing to its own citizens, the Russians were filled with further hate. Many of the Chinese villagers would rush up to the Russians giving them chickens, vegetables and eggs, which only strengthened the Russian troops mindset that the enemy soldiers needed to be defeated quickly so their citizens could live at peace again.
Another Chinese officer POW told the Russians Mukden was not going to be defended and in fact was probably burning down. The Russian advance quickened. Mishchenko ordered the 8th Don Cossack sotnia of Podesaul led by Denisov to rush over to Mukden to see if the rumors were true. The intelligence would prove accurate, Mukden was abandoned, however there was a catch. The Chinese planned to blow up Mukden and the Russians with it. The Manchu had placed mines with electric lead wires through countless buildings, ammunition dumps, gates and private homes. The entire population was chased out of the city before any of this was done, trying to keep it of the utmost secret. The Manchu generals expected the Russians to attack Mukden on October 2nd. However they were so busy plundering and mining the city the commanders neglected to post guards on the walls, so when Denisov’s patrol showed up on October 1st the gates were wide open. When the Chinese mounted patrols caught sight of the Russians they began firing upon them from the outskirts of the city. The Cossack ignored them and galloped through the southern gates of Mukden sabering through sentries. They quickly occupied a tower that was part of the southern wall and opened fire on Chinese tents down below. Chinese frantically began running as the Cossacks butchered anyone they saw. The Chinese soldiers were in a state of panic, firing randomly at anything that looked like an enemy. The Cossacks were attempting to make it seem like they were a much larger force than they were, charging through streets wildly. In the distance Artamonov and Mishchenko were closing in on the city and could see their comrades were occupying a tower and firing upon Chinese. With excitement at the bravado of their comrades they rushed forward. Han, Manchu and Boxers were seen fighting each other for horses to escape the city. In their flight the Chinese forgot to detonate the mines. At one of the gates boxes were buried with powder and phosphor matches and some of the Cossacks galloped over them, ignited the matches exploding the boxes upon the last Cossacks riding past. 6 men were killed, but in comparison to what the Chinese had planned it was a rather small price to pay.
At around sunset Konstantin arrived and occupied one of the eight gates of Mukden’s fortress walls. Cossacks ran through the city and its outskirts pushing out the Chinese to pacify the city. Entire quarters of Mukden were up in flames as the Chinese had burned down parts as they fled. The imperial palace was saved surprisingly. The fall of Mukden did not end the war over Manchuria, the Chinese did not surrender. Many scattered back to their villages, others became raiders continuing to attack both Russian and Chinese. Russian forces in Manchuria and Pechihili grew to 3900 officers and 173,00 men. However with Mukden taken, there was no longer a need for such a grand force and demobilization gradually began on October 3rd.
The Manchu general of Fengtian eventually sent word to General Subotich from Hsinminting that he was willing to enter peace negotiations. He laid blame completely upon the Boxers for the entire conflict, asserting he had done everything humanly possible to avoid violence and “to preserve the centuries old friendship between Russia and China”. He implored the Russians to continue anti bandit campaigns. The Honghuzi had been a problem long before this conflict. This title translates to “red beards”, they were armed Chinese bandits who operated on the eastern Russia-Chinese borderland during the late 19th to early 20th century. For decades they plundered the countryside defying the Qing authorities. They became so organized and strong, Qing officials would often find it necessary at times to make deals with them. This was sometimes by supplying them with foodstuff or occasionally bestowing military ranks upon their leaders. When wars occurred their ranks swelled. They had countless hideouts and the Russians found them to be quite the annoyance. The war had deeply impacted the harvests in Manchuria, numerous fields were not tended to properly and the population greatly suffered. Hunger began to stalk the land, the Manchuria railway transported large quantities of grain donated through charities to try and help.
The Russians never attempted direct rule over the government in Manchuria. They had garrisons in major cities and dominated key officials as advisers. General Tserpitskii commanding the forces around Mukden had his subordinate Colonel Grmbchevskii advise the Manchu General of Mukden “the duties of the colonel are broad and demand much tact in the continuous cooperation, and frequently opposition, of the two authorities Russia and Chinese. He must play the role of a buffer”. There was some economic stimulus to Manchuria from the Russians, Mukden was quickly rebuilt, markets expanded, Russians helped police wherever they had interest. In most of Manchuria the Russians could do whatever they wanted, excluding Yingkou which held an international settlement.
War Minister Aleksey Kuropatkin sought to ensure the good conduct of Russian forces in Manchuria and ordered General Grodekov and Admiral Alekseev “See to it that the troops do not coerce the population in any way. With the last shot of battle the life of the natives, their honor, property, and customs must become inviolate for our troops”. Russia was well aware the other great powers resented their occupation and influence over the region.
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And so the Russian empire had consolidated its foothold in all of Manchuria. 177,000 Russians troops were now stationed within the breadbasket of Asia, under the guise they were only there to protect railways, but what if they decided not to leave?