Never Underestimate Your Enemies

Russian and Japanese Calvary meet on the battlefield during the Battle of Yalu River

As I went about trying to figure out how I was going to approach the discussion of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905 I came across the picture above, which I later discovered was part of a collection of Japanese woodblock prints that depicted portions of this war. I was further intrigued by the collection in to determining what part of the Russo-Japanese war this painting depicted. I discovered that the battle from the painting was the Battle of Yalu River, which had a great impact in the Russo-Japanese War.

The Russo-Japanese War was initiated in February of 1904 when the Japanese, as they would do at Pearl Harbor during World War II, launched a sneak attack on the Russian naval vessels located at Port Arthur, a warm water port located on the east coast of present day China. The result of this attack was a declaration of war by both Japanese and Russia parties involved. The next course of action for the Japanese were military incursions into Manchuria, which the Russian’s occupied. These actions set the stage for the first major land battle of the Sino Japanese War: The Battle of Yalu River.

Map of the Battle of Yalu River

The battle of Yalu River took place over the period of two days. Contact was initiated by Japanese troops with Russian troops on April 30, 1904 and the battle officially ended on May 1, 1904. Major General Kuroki Tamemoto and his 42,000 Japanese soldiers outnumbered Lieutenant General Mikhail Zasulich and his 25,000 soldiers. The Russians, who were greatly outnumbered, were also ill prepared for the battle just as then had not been prepared for Japan’s sneak attack on Port Arthur. Since the Russian empire covered so much territory, General Zasulich’s mission was to delay the Japanese advance in order to buy enough time for Russian troops being transported via the Trans-Siberian railroad from the western portion of the Russian empire to reinforce the troops under his command. The strategy employed by General Zasulich was one of static defensive positions along the bank of the Yalu River. The problem with this strategy was that “this force was spread out piecemeal over a 170-mile front, whereas the Japanese could concentrate its efforts on any single point of its choosing” (Battle of Yalu River). While the Russian troops were setting up their static defensive positions on the Yalu river, the Japanese were gathering intelligence for the upcoming battle using forward deployed scouts disguised as Korean fishermen. Due to Japan’s effective use of scouts and the Russian’s poor attempts to hide their defensive positions, the Japanese were able to gain excellent intelligence in the days before the battle, which enabled the Japanese to be able to pinpoint the exact positions of Russian troops and determine the best point of attack on the Russian positions.

Employing several pontoon bridges that spanned the width of the Yalu river at several different locations, Japanese troops began to move across the Yalu river under the cover of darkness and fog. By April 29th, the Japanese First Army had crossed the river and began their assault on three different Russian positions. The consequences of the Japanese assault was a Russian retreat. Due to poorly timed counter attacks by Russian troops, the Japanese were able to punch more holes in the Russian lines and the Russian began a full retreat. The Russian’s were now on the run, the battle was over, and the Japanese now had a foothold in Manchuria. This battle showed that the Russian’s were not prepared for a war with Japan and that the Japanese could match European powers in battle.



The Last Deportation

In a photograph taken near Samarkand, an old man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught. Samarkand and its region were noted for wide diversity in ethnic groups, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Persians, and Arabs as well as the more recently arrived Russians.

When I first sat down to write about this photo, my efforts were focused on the large number of different ethnic minority groups that made up the population of the Soviet Union. As the caption of the picture above states, just the region where this picture was taken is home to many different ethnic groups.  Although I knew about the mass deportations of ethnic groups from the western Soviet Republics and Oblasts, which occurred while Stalin was in power, I had not heard anything about deportations of ethic groups from the southern Soviet Republics. From further research into the matter I discovered that ethnic groups from the Southern Republics, such as the Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek Soviet Republics, suffered the same fate as the ethnic groups from the western Soviet Republic. The most interesting information I found was that one of last ethnic groups to be deported in the Soviet Union were from the Tajik Soviet Republic. This group was the Yaghnobi, a Tajik ethnic minority of mountaineers that inhabited the valleys of the Sughd Province of the Tajik Soviet Republic.

Yaghnob Valley×692.jpg

Although many ethnic groups were deported from their home territories during the reign of Stalin and the rule of the Soviet Union, the Yaghnobi people are unique in one way: they were deported in the 1970’s almost 20 years after Khrushchev condemned the deportations which took place in the Stalin era. The reason it took so long for these mountain dwellers to be deported was because of their location in the mountains, which was very secluded. The reasoning behind their deportation was due to the Soviet Union’s need of workers to grow and harvest cotton in Zafarabod. After the deportation some of the Yaghnobi people managed to make their way back to their home in the Yaghnobi valley only to be deported again and returned to the cotton fields. As a result of the Yaghnobi’s actions, the Soviet Union essentially attempted to eradicate the Yaghnobi culture by destroying all the villages in the Yaghnobi valley and their religious books.

Due to the harsh environment and poor living conditions the Yaghnobi were exposed to when they were deported, of the three to four thousand Yaghnobi people deported, “between 400 and 700 Yaghnobis died during their first year in Zafarabod” (Yagnobi People, 2007) (Loy, 2005). It was not until 1983 that some of the Yagnobi people began to migrate back to the Yagnobi valley.



Loy, Thomas. 2005. Jaghnob 1970: Erinnerungen an eine Zwangumsiedlung in der Tadschikischen SSR. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag