Page images

1st, the 6th, and the 17th corps, in all 96 battalions of infantry, and 35 batteries of artillery. Then there was a general reserve, consisting of the 16th army corps-32 battalions of infantry, and 12 batteries of artillery. There was Mishchenko's cavalry division, consisting of 96 sotnias and 4 battalions of Za-Amur Border infantry; there were 34 sotnias of Ussuri cavalry, Amur Cossacks, and Orenburg cavalry; and there were finally 36 battalions of horse artillery, mountain-guns, field howitzers, siege-guns, and unattached artillery. The grand total stood: 376 battalions of infantry, 171 batteries of artillery, and 178 sotnias of cavalry, -making numerically about 300,800 rifles, 34,000 gunners (with 1368 guns), and 26,700 sabres, or a grand aggregate of 361,500 of all arms. Of the disposal of this huge force we have as yet only the broad outline. We know, however, the main division of the three army corps. Bilderling had taken over from Gripenberg and was responsible for the Russian right; Kulbars maintained the centre; and Linievitch opposed Kawamura and Kuroki in the mountains in the east. Rennenkampf prolonged Linievitch's line to the left; and Mishchenko, as we have already shown, was responsible for the open alluvial plains of the Liau-ho and the Hun-ho. We have, therefore, in this action the extraordinary spectacle of very nearly a million of men in action, since we may safely estimate that the Japanese numbers were 25 per

cent in advance of those of their opponents.

The first object of the Japanese staff was to confirm Kuropatkin in his belief that the Japanese soldier was not comparable with the Russian in the low country. On February 19 the Japanese army of the extreme right, that is Kawamura's army, all veterans from the Chinese War, broke up its standing camp and threw out two advance guards to cover the two roads leading directly upon the Russian fortified positions in the Ta-ling range. unattached Ta-ling range. The thaw had commenced, but it was not the warm comfortable change of temperature that we know in our temperate zone. It was a thaw that was slow to beat the efforts of the frost, and as miserable a season for campaigning almost as the dead of winter. But the start had to be made or the ice over the rivers would not hold; and if the ice gave completely, it would be weeks before the surface of the soil would have allowed the pontoon waggons to arrive. On the 20th and 21st of February, Kawamura's advance guards drove in the Russian outposts. Then the great serried triple line of works which topped the still snow-driven ridges of Ta-ling stood out grisly and forbidding in front of Kawamura's veterans. As on all previous occasions the Russian engineers had spared no pains in making their intrenchments as impregnable as the art and science of military engineering would allow. There were the same areas of barbed wire en

tanglements, the endless rows of spiked pitfalls, and the many open patches which carried the suspicion of contact mine and other diabolic contrivance. But, grisly as they were, these works had to be carried; and it is curious that so young a nation should have been able to produce an infantry so dogged, so steadfast, and so persevering, that it was able, by sheer recuperative insistence, to carry obstacles such as infantry had never before been called upon to face.

From February 22 to the end of February 24 Kawamura's veterans were hurling themselves against this triple line of defences. On the 23rd and 24th, to add to the miseries of these desperate soldiers, a blinding blizzard blew down the valley. Even though this almost irresistible force of nature was sweeping in their faces, this inimitable infantry managed, in the midst of desperate carnage, to seize one foothold in the Ta-ling Pass, from which they were able to lever their stubborn, yet less active, enemy. The fighting was Homeric. We have on record the description of one of these assaults which will stand for nearly every Japanese success. This spectator had the good fortune to be present within 8 thousand yards of one of these desperate struggles for a hill crest,struggle which lasted without intermission for forty-eight hours. Although in the description it may lose much of the fire and animation of the actual event, yet it gives a curiously vivid impression of


a class of combat which we ourselves two years ago believed to have become obsolete. The Japanese were advancing in full daylight to the assault of one of these Ta-ling ridges. Every section of the battalion as it advanced stood out clearly defined, since the blizzard, of which we have spoken, had just covered the ground with a thin fresh veneer of snow. Even though the powdery flakes were still beating in the faces of this intrepid infantry, yet this conspiracy of nature was not altogether an unmixed evil. The carpet of white which swept up the slope they had to face left exposed the triple row of deathtraps which the Russian sappers had sunk in the hillside. For a thousand yards there was little cover for the advance. Until it could get well under the slope of the position, where in places the rocks shelved perpendicularly, the assault was absolutely exposed. But experience, the bitter experience of eighteen months' war, had taught these men to take their cover with them. Each man had a sandbag on his shoulder, and as each section faced the blaze of infantry fire which opened as they unmasked from cover, they threw the sandbags as a wall in front of them and grovelled behind them for such scant shelter as they gave. And all the while the razoredge of the position was swept by a hail of shrapnel which seemed ceaseless in its continuity.

By these means, on the first day, considerable progress was made, and by four in the

[ocr errors]

afternoon the residue of the leading battalion had struggled as far as the wire chevauxde-frise, and had prised and levered the supporting poles of these entanglements from their sockets. This end accomplished, and the leading battalion had run its course. But the sandbags and the dead bodies of the bearers that it had left behind served as stepping stones for the next battalion, and by evening this support made good the open as far as the perpendicular rocks and the last forty yards rise before the actual position. It was here that the assault was to stick. Three times during the night were reinforcements pushed up and an endeavour made to rush the summit. The return of daylight disclosed the countless little heaps of brown bodies half covered with snow,-grim evidence of the ease and completeness with which the Russian defenders had defeated every effort. As bees hang on a honeycomb so the little Japanese infantry clung to the face of the perpendicular which gave them cover from the merciless riflefire which swept down upon them from above. As the watcher lay with his glass glued on the sky-line, he could see the Russian infantrymen raise themselves over the parapet and fire down the slope in front of them. Even the pitiless rain of shrapnel did not seem to disconcert them. Their persistence in defence seemed to be as great as that of their enemy in attack. Presently another section of little fur-clad Japanese would

The long

leave the cover of the cliff and gallantly climb upwards. The Russians would rise to meet them, and before half the ascent was made those of the assaulters left standing would face about, break, and rush pell-mell down the hillside. If one such an attack were made that forenoon, twenty sections must have essayed the attempt and failed. Then, at last, when the whole thing seemed useless, suddenly a corporal and four men made good the ascent to the parapet, and appeared upon the sky-line. The Russians rose to meet them, and there, silhouetted against the winter sky, bayonet crossed bayonet. taper weapon of the Muscovite drove the Japanese back, but the interlude of Homeric combat had served its purpose. As the little fur-clad infantrymen sank back with steel-pierced bodies, another section was supporting them. Saved from that pitiless rifle-fire, these latter in their turn appeared upon the sky-line. Section after section poured in behind them. ten minutes, or perhaps fifteen, the figures bobbed and fluctuated on that crest-line. It was impossible to apportion success or failure. Instinctively, as it were, there was a lull in the shell-fire. In the immediate vicinity both armies seemed spell-bound by the issue being struggled for on that single hill. Then, suddenly, the puffs of shrapnel began to burst again, and the watchers could see the black backs of men firing down the reverse slope of the hill. The Russians had given way. The Ta-ling heights were won by just a


score of combats as the one described.

On the night of the 24th Kawamura was able to telephone to Kuroki that he had made good the passes for Taling. The same day, according to the set scheme, Kuroki had commenced his advance. He had in front of him just as much solid honest hill-fighting as had Kawamura. But, if anything, the Japanese staff had underrated the task in front of their two right armies. They knew that it would take Kawamura some time to reach Ti-ta, but they had not realised to the full extent the possibili ties of the Russian resistance. Thus it is we find that from February 24 to the end of the month both these armies were battling their way slowly forward against a constant stubborn resistance, and against almost impregnable positions.

Kuropatkin does not seem to have shown any special apprehension with regard to his left. He seems to have been imbued with the idea that the Japanese main attack would come upon his left. The persistence and the final successes of the Japanese on Ta-ling seemed to confirm this view. For the rest, the remainder of the Japanese lines seemed more or less quiescent. There was no response to his now heavy bombardment upon the positions in front of the Sha-ho, and at that date there had been no compromising reports from either the centre or the left of the Japanese army. It was not till the 27th of February that anything occurred to give Kuropatkin any special line upon which to

reframe his dispositions. On the 27th, without warning, the artillery which Oyama had massed in the vicinity of the railway on his centre commenced a heavy bombardment of the Russian batteries, which had been pounding the Japanese centre for the last ten days. The sudden unmasking of large artillery forces on the Japanese centre seemed rather to confirm Kuropatkin in his original view than to perplex him. He had made up his mind that the Japanese main attack would be against Fu-shun.

But the last day of February and the first of March brought a very definite appreciation of the situation with it. Simultaneously Kuropatkin must have received reports, first that, before Kawamura, Linievitch felt himself insecure at Ti-ta and Ma-chun-tun; secondly, that Oku was advancing; and lastly and most significant of all, that the Japanese cavalry had appeared in Hsinmin-ting. Still, so imbued was Kuropatkin with the correctness of his own appreciation of the situation, that he took no notice of the sudden appearance of Japanese cavalry on his right flank; but when he heard that Kawamura was irresistible with Linievitch's present force, he became apprehensive for that flank and immediately entrained his independent reserves to Fu-shun, whither he also transferred his own headquarters.

Once Kuropatkin was committed to the movement of his reserves from Mukden he had played completely into the Japanese plans. Instead of be

ing a mere cavalry demonstration, the appearance of an advanced guard at Hsin-minting really meant the overthrow of that flank. As will be seen, each movement of the Japanese had had its relative significance. The advance of Kawamura and Kuroki had not only secured Oyama's right flank, but had attracted the flower and bulk of Kuropatkin's reserves to the opposite flank, from which the decisive Japanese attack was to come. Oku in the centre, under cover of the heavy cannonade which had been opened on February 27, was moving with his right shoulder up in order that Nogi with his Port Arthur veterans should not be left in the air when he finally appeared in definite strength at Hsin-min-ting. In the meantime our old hero Nodzu was still lying quiet behind the batteries which were banging the Russian centre to pieces, ready to seize the first favourable opening which would occur when Nogi's advance had definitely developed. That it was an admirably conceived plan of campaign it would be useless to deny, but it fills the military reader with astonishment that a plan, which was mainly admirable on account of its simplicity, should have been so misunderstood by the Russian staff. Even if the little contretemps at the Hsin-kai bridge had taken Mishchenko up north, there should have been a sufficient Intelligence Department left in Hsin-min-ting to have foreshadowed the significance of the Nogi movement in time to have prevented Kuropatkin

from sending his reserves to protect his left. We do not, at the present moment, pretend to understand Kuropatkin or his plans, as we honestly believe that he failed as a commander in the field not because he was devoid of military intelligence and the other necessary attributes which go to make a great general, but because he attempted the impossible in endeavouring to maintain in his own hands the command of the vast army concentrated in Manchuria. After mature reflection, it would seem that to this account must be laid the want of co-operation and cohesion which undoubtedly was the main main cause of Russia's military collapse. We have already shown how, at Liauyang, Kuroki failed to be annihilated because there was no one present on that front amongst the Russian generals who had authority to act; we have likewise shown how miserably Gripenberg's operations petered out for want of co-operation; and here again at Mukden we have a fresh evidence that Kuropatkin's presence was considered essential for the direction of all serious fighting.

But although Nogi followed his cavalry into Hsin-min-ting on March 1, the battle of Mukden was not yet won,-in fact, one might almost say that the battle had only just begun. But it had begun with the balance of advantage in Japan's favour. From March 2 to March 7 the severity of the struggle all along the line of the Russian front was SO great and so undecided that it

« PreviousContinue »