This highly usual Ottoman work is a large-formal, separately issued map depicting the Japanese siege of the Russian base of Port Arthur, China (August 1904 to January 1905), one of the great military events and media spectacles of the fin-de-siècle era. Port Arthur is today the Lüshunkou District of the large port city of Dalian, which now takes up almost all the Liaodong Peninsula of Liaoning State. Published entirely in Ottoman Turkish script by the Ottoman Military Press immediately in the wake of the events portrayed, it is certainly one of the only large-format, detailed city-battle plans of a subject distant from the Ottoman Empire to have been published in Constantinople. Indeed, we are not are of any other Ottoman map of this description. This creation of this exceptional work is due to the unusual fascination that the Siege of Port Arthur seemed to spark in the Turkish mind and media.
The Siege of Port Arthur was the bloodiest and longest-running event of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), an epic showdown between the two empires for dominance over the Far East. Port Arthur was of immense strategic value as an all-season deep-water port, considered one of the best natural harbours in East Asia. Japan had easily conquered Port Arthur form China in 1894, even though the city had been heavily fortified by the German Krupp munitions company. Under Western pressure, the city was given to Russia as a treaty port in 1898. Since then, Russia had made Port Arthur onto one of the most heavily fortified places on earth, with the city itself attaining population of 87,000 by 1904. Port Arthur was one of the anchors the Russian presence in East Asia, along with Vladivostok and Harbin. Naturally, the Japanese viewed taking the city as a vital objective of the war, and so spent vast resources to win what became a five-month long operation.
The present map embraces part of the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, with Port Arthur located in the lower centre. The ‘old town’ surrounds the basin on the eastern side of the harbour, while the head of the port features the ‘new town’, with its orderly pattern of streets. As explained in the legend below the title, the fortifications and siege works of both sides are all featured in red. Numerous Russian forts and batteries are shown protecting the harbour, while the landward side
of the city is protected by a cordon militaire. The Japanese artillery positions occupy the highlands around the city. As noted in the title, the Ottoman Military Press derived the map from a 1903 (supposedly Western) plan of Port Arthur.
The present map, perhaps not unsurprisingly, is seemingly unrecorded; we have not been able to trace even a vague reference to the map.
The Siege of Port Arthur: Major Military Showdown and Media Spectacle of the Fin-de Siècle Era
The Siege of Port Arthur was one of the great global military events of the generation leading up to World War I and was one of the first to be covered in almost real-time by the world media through photography and breaking news delivered by telegraph. It was one of the key events of the stunning Russo-Japanese War, the climax of a long-brewing contest for donation over the continental Far East.
To make a long story short, by the beginning of the 20th Century, Russia and the newly hyperindustrialized Meiji Japan had expanded their zones of control or influence in the continental Far East for decades, with their gains coming largely at the expense of China. Inevitably, Russia and Japan came to loggerheads in the Manchuria. Japan coveted the entire region, while Russia was building the Trans-Siberian Railway throughout the area, having founded the great inland hub of Harbin (in 1898) and acquiring the fine harbour of Port Arthur in 1898. Simply put, there was not room for both great powers in Manchuria, and something would have to give.
Japan initiated the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 8, 1904 – September 5, 1905), deploying its large, well-trained military, backed by the most modern equipment, against Russia’s Chinese outposts. Russia was caught off guard, while severely underestimating Japan’s capabilities. Officials in St. Petersburg simply could not believe that an ‘Asian’ country could defeat a leading European power in a modern conflict. The war commenced on February 8, 1904, when the Japanese mounted a ‘sneak attack’, shelling Russian ships off Port Arthur (without besieging the city) before a declaration of war was made. Czar Nicholas II considered this to be a dishonourable act, setting an ugly tone for the conflict that was to follow.
Through the early months of 1904, the Japanese moved massive forces onto Manchuria, while Russian mobilization was slow. Taking Port Arthur was a prime Japanese objective, for as long as the base remained in Russian hands, none of the Japanese gains in Manchuria would be secure.
A Japanese force of 150,000 men under General Count Nogi Maresuke, one of the most revered Meiji commanders, surrounded Port Arthur beginning on August 1, 1904. The city was defended by 50,000 Russian troops armed with 506 heavy guns, commanded by Major-General Baron Anatoly Stoessel, considered a rather lacklustre leader. The Japanese were initially overconfident, believing that since they had easily taken Port Arthur from China in 1894, that the city would once again fall quickly. This assumption was wrong, as in the previous six years, the Russians had made Port Arthur into one of the most heavily fortified sites in the world.
During what was by far the longest and bloodiest aspect of the entire war, Port Arthur was subjected to a constant barrage of heavy ordnance, while the Russians returned fire upon the Japanese lines, often to devastating effect. One of the shocking new inventions used in the siege were 28-inch howitzers that could lodge 217 kg shells over 8 kilometres! The events of the siege were followed daily by millions of newspaper readers across the globe. The Russians, running out of supplies and ammunition, finally surrendered to Count Nogi on January 2, 1905. The toll of siege was astounding, the Russians suffered 31,000 casualties, while the Japanese endured 57,000 casualties.
The loss of Port Arthur was a death blow to Russia’s land campaign. To reset things, Czar Nicholas II sent a fleet of his best 38-ships all way the from St. Petersburg to the Far East. However, the Russian flotilla was intercepted in the waters between Korea and Japan by a Japanese fleet of 89 ships which proceeded to utterly decimate the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima (May 27-28, 1905). This defeat knocked Russia out of the war, and facing a rebellion at home, the czar sued for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Portsmouth (September 5, 1905). This agreement confirmed Japan as the foremost power in the Far East until World War II.
It was exceedingly unusual for the Ottomans to produce a large-format, large-scale separately issued map focussing upon a city or local military operation in such a faraway land. While Sublime Porte eagerly followed event global events, even those in the Far East, it tended to be preoccupied by the tumultuous state of its own empire, which then extended all the way from Albania to Yemen. While Ottoman cartography had reached a high level of sophistication and technical capability by the late 19th Century, the heavy demand for maps of places and events in their own empire or borderlands tended to crowd out any notion of producing detailed works of places on the other side of the globe. While the Ottomans produced many small-scale maps of countries far abroad, usually as part of atlases, the present large-format and -scale map of Siege of Port Arthur, China is a truly unusual, even exceptional, product of Ottoman cartography.
Why did the Ottomans Print a Large-Format Map of a Military Siege in China?
There were three main reasons why the Ottoman Military Press took the unusual step of printing a large-format map of a battle site in faraway China; the motives range from the conventional to slightly eccentric.
First, the Russian Empire had been for centuries the Sublime Porte’s arch-nemesis, and the Ottomans’ fear of St. Petersburg at times bordered on paranoia. The two empire had fought over thousands of square kilometres of territory in south-eastern Europe and the Caucuses for centuries. In early times, the Ottomans had the upper hand, but since the 18th Century, Russia had succeeded in taking large swathes of territory from the Sultan’s rule. In recent times, Russia had throttled the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, and since then had been actively encouraging the various South Slavic powers and Greece to fight against the Ottoman presence in the Balkans, at great cost to the Sublime Porte. Russian agents also enjoyed spreading bad rumours about the Ottoman economy, sometimes causing Ottoman stock and bonds to tank on the markets. Quite frankly, the Ottomans despised Russia, and any map that showed one of their great military bases being besieged would have been a source of considerable delight.
Second, the Ottomans held a certain fasciation for Japan, even if the two empires had limited direct contact. Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876-1909) was amazed by how Meiji Era Japan (1868-1912) had rapidly and successfully transitioned from being a pre-industrial society that had been ‘pushed around’ by Westerners into a modern economic and military superpower capable of not only preserving its independence, but vanquishing its neighbours (ex. China and Korea), as well as thrashing a major European power (Russia). In this sense, Japan served as something of a role model for the Ottoman Empire, which was in the process of its own, albeit more gradual, industrial revolution, while enduring constant Western interference in its internal affairs.
Third, and on a bizarre, but not unserious note, many intellectuals in Constantinople were fascinated by the theory of ‘Turanism’, the notion that certain Eurasian peoples, including Turks, Hungarians, Finns, Manchus and Japanese, amongst others, all originally hailed from a common ancestral homeland in the heart of Asia. While there were some ancient links between some of these disparate peoples, Turanism has since been largely proven to have exaggerated these ties; however, during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the movement was all rage amongst wealthy-intellectual sets in various ‘Turanian’ capitals. Even Sultan Abdul Hamid II held a curiosity for the notion, having held several private meetings with Ármin Vámbéry, a leading Hungarian Turanian. In this regard, the Turkish Turanians would have enjoyed seeing their Japanese ‘cousins’ defeat the Russians!
References: N / A – Rare – No references or other examples traced.