The Russo-Japanese War, the first major conflict of the 20th century, began on this day in 1904.
The fighting took place in the Far East, almost 7,000 km from St. Petersburg, which was the Russian capital at the time. In that war, Japan inflicted a heavy defeat on the Russian Empire and humiliated Russian Emperor Nicholas II (the same one whom the Bolsheviks killed after the October Revolution).
The conflict between Japan and Russia was for the most part caused by the Russian naval presence on the Far East. Namely, the Imperial Russian Navy wanted to secure a warm-sea base on the Far East. Since Vladivostok was only accessible during the summer months (the danger of hitting ice was too great in winter), the Russians decided to look for a more southern base.
They found in the form of Port Arthur, on the territory of China. They had acquired the base from the Chinese Empire and deployed most of their Pacific Fleet there. Port Arthur was located on a peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea, roughly halfway between Beijing and what is now North Korea. The Russians concentrated a large number of their ships in Port Arthur, including the most powerful warships of the time – battleships.
The Japanese started the war with a surprise attack on the Russian navy at Port Arthur. They fired as many as 16 torpedoes at the Russian vessels, and managed to damage the cruisers Pallada, Retvizan, and Cesarevich. Incidentally, the Pallada belonged to the same class of ships as the Aurora, the famous icon of the October Revolution.
Russian emperor Nicholas II was surprised by the sudden attack. A major conflict erupted, lasting for around a year and a half, and leading to the death of over 100,000 people. The Russians even sent their Baltic Fleet to the Far East. In the end, the Japanese managed to prevail and proved that they were a power to be reckoned with.