Russo-Japanese War : History through Old Postcards

· Photo Essay



This article emphasizes notes on historical postcards relevant to the war between Russia and Japan in the years 1904 and 1905 .  The postcards here from the the years in question, to a degree, represent  what would have passed for photo-journalism at that time.  Artistic licence would permit even more distortion of truth than any camera – no need for digital editing when no original exists!  This is not to say that photographs were not made of the military events.  For a privileged few, it was a great spectacle.  The British were supposedly spying against Russian interests.  Both the United States and Argentina had observers with the Japanese, the former caught the explosion of the principal Russian ship on film, the latter justifies the inclusion of Spanish in this text.  The French and the Germans financially supported the Russians. The Chinese and the Koreans were victims.  Because of these facts, reasonable concessions have been made to readers of all these countries, according to this writer’s capacity. The order of languages is based on his resources available for cross-checking of the translations.

While  these are in the public domain, at least in the United States, and some, in Europe, for reasons to be explained later, because of the number of hours dedicated to eliminating most evidence of use, quality enhancement, and addition of text in other languages, I claim copyright on the modifications. This follows the practice of other websites, including a prestigious art museum, which probably had to do no more than scan their cards, and could afford to be generous.

Where possible, readers are given indications of where to find other copies: they are usually found on auction sites, between 6 and 25 Euros.

Rather than talk about the war per se, interesting nuggests of information are included. Speculations about the post-cards, the included translations, and some research on observers to any aspect of this conflict, constitute the principal claim to originality of this work.

Selected sources for more information are listed in the bibliography. The analysis of the war can best be left to professional historians.  The battles have already been sufficiently covered by other writers.  It is sufficient to say, that the war was an conflict by two empires intent upon further imperial expansion.

Sources for the Postcards

Some of the cards which were scanned seem to have been part of a group somehow connected to Argentina, as at least a couple of cards seem to have found their way from e-bay in Canada to an agent in the former-mentioned country. Further, there is some hearsay evidence, connecting a name on one of those cards with a supposed Argentine general. No information has been found by anyone with that name, but as hinted at above, Argentina and Chile, as well as Spain, did observe the war, or part of it. The collection below did not attest to any of that, but to a potential interest by one of the correspondents.

The cards originally were sent from France, Germany, Japan, Argentina, and Great Britain.  Some of the postcards were sent from Saint Petersburg, Capital of the Russian Empire at the time.  The markings which have been chosen, are the best of a bad lot:

Russian Stamp

Russian Empire 2 Kopeck Stamp and Cancellation


The post-mark is during the period of the war under consideration.

A further group of postcards is being added to add to the historical context, but the years of publication cannot be guaranteed to provide accurate images of the situation as seen around 1904.

A Russian Postcard of Harbin

The version that we present here has text in Russian and Chinese, and sent in 1921.  One with English and Chinese, in black and white, was found on e-bay, already sold, without any dates.


Postcard of Railroad Station in Harbin, China, during Years of Russian Influence

Before the conflict, this city was comparable to places in the American “Old West”.  It is reported that even the Russians were surprised by its industry and growth.

During the war, the winter garments of the Russian soldiers were kept in this city.  It was 189 miles from Mukden on the rail line that the Russians had in that direction.  It was also connected to Port Arthur.  Both of these latter cities figure in important battles.


Four Pictures by an Unknown Artist


We start with what are the most artistic, but least informative of the postcards.  The printing was in German, we have added English. Once card, as indicated below, was found in an English-only version.



Russian Troopship under Shelling


Destruction of the Varyag and the Korietz

This above item, in supposedly excellent condition, was found listed on September 5, 2015, for $59.99.  Under the English heading, “Destruction of the Russian Cruisers Variag and Korietz in the Harbour of Chemulpho”, a grainier, bluer-tinted version of the above is seen on a page put together by a photographer, Larry Neilson, although the authorship page seems to be given to some fictional personage by the name of Percival.  It seems to be the same picture as found on Wikipedia in the public domain, and identified as a propaganda photograph.  The version scanned for this page unfortunately contains smudges on the top left.


Japanese Cruiser Capturing a Russian Merchant Ship

Shelling of Port

Japanese Attack on Port Arthur

While the above pictures are identified with initials such as “W St”, more information is unavailable. The publisher was apparently in Berlin, Kudka Verlag. The above are part of a series named “Series I – Russland-Japan“.

 Illustrations by Paul Adolphe Kauffmann

In this section, we will have images created by Frenchman Paul Adolphe Kauffmann, who lived from 1849 to 1940.  These images can thus be recreated where copyright refers to 100 years from date of publication, or 70 years from date of death.  These images have been digitally modified, as stated in the introduction.  In some instances, poor attempts at correction might be noticed at the bottom, or the right.  Occasionally, reasonable results were possible, due to splicing parts of a pair of cards.  Perhaps by downloading some of the items available on the Web, someone with better software could improve on the appearance of some cards.

On August 20, 2014, the first picture of the series was added.  Quality was not outstanding, it took and examination of about 10 cards to acertain that the publisher was L’H. in Paris. The “H” usually looked like “II” or “Il”.  Even the inking on “Paris” was deficient.

On September 20 (2014), pictures 1, 6, 7, and 8 were found on-line, at 6 Euros each, black and white, with the name of the publisher to the left, or at the bottom.  In the series below, this information was found on the back of the cards.


Start of Hostilities – Attack on Port Arthur.

The translation: Start of Hostilities: Sudden attack by Japanese Torpedo Boats on the Russian Fleet in Port Arthur, on the Nights of February 7 and 8, 1904.


Après avoir lancé leurs torpilles, les Japonais font machine en arrière avant la riposte des batteries russes. 

Picture 2 of this series:

Ships - Port Arthur

Port Arthur Naval Combat

Port Arthur Naval Combat of February 8, 1904

The Russian fleet, immediately upon having responded to the Japanese torpedo boats, sank two of them, and damaged several Japanese vessels which retreated after an hour of fighting.

Comment: This series of post-cards reflects sympathy with the Russian cause.  It seems that this picture shows a retreating Japanese vessel – but then why is it sailing towards the viewer?

French Text:

Le Combat naval de Port-Arthur le 8 Février 1904
La flotte russe, ayant immédiatement riposté aux attaques des torpilleurs japonais, coula deux de ceux-ci et endommagea plusiers navires japonais qui battirent en retraite après une heure de combat.

This next picture was added August 23.

Chemulpo Sea Battle

Naval Battle at Chemulpo, Korea

Text:  February 8.  The Japanese squadron escorts a military supply convoy destined for unloading in Korea: it attacks the Russian cruiser Varyag, which it severely damages; and the gunboat Korietz, which was blown up by its crew.   The cruise Varyag, aflame, sinks shortly afterwards.

Comment:  A bit ironic in this war over territory, the name Korietz means “Little Korean”.


Le 8. Février.  L’escadre japonaise escortait un convoi militaire et d’approvisionnnement destiné à un débarquement en Corre: elle attaquait le croiseur russe Varyag qu’elle endommageait gravement et la canonnière Korietz que son équipage faisait sauter.  – Le croiseur Varyag, incendié, coulait peu après.

Picture Number 4 has not been found.  The fifth picture of the group shows a detachment of Japanese troops entering Seoul, of what was known until 1910 as the Empire of Korea.

Troops to Seoul

Japanese Occupation of Seoul

Soon after the first landing at Seoul, capital of Korea, at first occupied by a small number (of troops) to maintain order. The Russian detachment charged with the protection of the Rusian delegation, immediately left Seoul with the Consul, in order to rejoin the army.

Comment: The position of the legs of the Japanese soldiers appears quite unnatural.  It seems to conform to a racist attitude, by depicting an animal-like quality in the gait of these men.

Occupation de Séoul par un détachement d’avant-garde japonaise le 10 Février

Aussitôt après le premier débarquement à Séoul, capital de la Corée, qu’ils occupent d’abord en petit nombre pour maintenir l’ordre. Le détachement russe, qui était chargé de la garde de la légation russe, quittait ensuite Séoul avec le consul pour rejoindre l’armée.

Picture 6.

Ship - Assama

Cruiser Asama at Chemulpo Bay

In the naval battle at Chemulpo. the Vargag put the forward turrent cannons of the cruiser Asama out of commission, sunk a torpedo boat, and inflicted damage on the cruisers Isouma [Asuma] and Takatchica, (Takachiho – see card under “A Spanish Postcard”) which sange during the eventing. This battle cost the Russians the loss Korietz’s cannoneer, and of the cruiser Varyag. [Perhaps the cannoneers of both ships is meant.] The Japanese suffered significant losses.
Comment: The above text was either dispatched before the definitive results of the engagement, or were meant to keep up the morale of Russia, and its supporters. Notice that the death of an individual artilleryman is mentioned, to soften the impact of the loss of a ship, and immediately afterwards, without further detail, this is made to appear as trivial in comparison to the Japanese losses.

Croiseur japonais Assama désemparé à Chemulpo le 9 Février.

Au combat naval de Chemulpo, le Varyag mit hors d’usage les canons de la tourelle avant du croiseur japonais Assama, coula un torpilleur, infligea de dégats aux croiseur Issoumaet Takatchica; ce dernier coulait dans la soirée. – Ce combat coûtait à la Russie la perte de la canonnière Korietz et du croiseur Varyag. – Les pertes de Japonais furent importantes.

Our next picture shows the Russians conforming to the Christian traditions of the Europe of 100 years ago:

Praying soldiers

Russians’ Evening Prayer in Mukden [Shenyang], Manchuria

Evening Prayer in the Russian Quarter of Mukden (Manchuria)

There are some doubts about the word “to” in this translation, “for” is expected: Every evening, after dinner, the men gather in one of the dormitories of the quartered battalion and recite a prayer in common to the Tsar, the Motherland and the God of Hosts. The Pope reads verses from the Holy Book and ends with prayer for the fallen of the Homeland.

Comment:   In their humility, it seems a prayer for victory was not contemplated.

At the end of this war, a Rev. Dr. Robert S. MacArthur intolerantly claimed the defeat of Russia was as good for Christianity as the destruction of the Spanish Armada, under a New York Times title, “Russia More Pagan than Japan – MacArthur“.  Perhaps it is just as well that the Times does not allow viewing of the complete article.


French text:

La prière du soir au cantonnement russe de Moukden (Mandchourie)

Chaque soir, après le repas, les hommes se réunissent dans l’une des salle de repos du bataillon cantonné et récitent en commun une priere au Tsar, à la Patrie et au Dieu des Armées. Le Pope lit les versets du Livre sacré et termine par la prière aux morts pour la Patrie.

Our series continues with what seems to be a battle going wonderfully for the Russian Empire, but the facts do not bear this out.  Again, there seems to be some disconnect between the description of the picture, and what is seen.

Cossacks fighting Japanese

February 11 – Attempt by Japanese to disembark is frustrated.

Japanese landing attempt rejected on February 11.

The Japanese had landed 600 men near Tallien-Wan (Gulf of Petchili), the Cossacks rushed forward, and cut down 410 of them. The remainder, fleeing, went back to their ships in haste.

Caution: There was Russian heroism in this war, but these postcards carry things too far.  The above text is even infantile in its use of language.

Tentative de débarquement des Japonais repoussée le 11 Février.

Les Japonais ayant débarqué 600 hommes près de Talien-Ouan (golfe du Petchili), les Cosaques s’élancèrent et leur sabrèrent 410 hommes. Les autres, s’enfuyant, regagnèrent leurs navires en hâte.

Card 9:

Spies Hung

An Execution of Japanese Spies

On February 22, Colonel Asahi and two lieutenants of the Japanese staff were apprehended while dressed as coolies and while they were about to blow up the bridge of the Sungari [Sung-Hua] River in Manchuria. They were brought before a military tribunal and were hanged by the neck at the bridge in question.

Exécution de trois officiers d’état-major japonais saisis en espionnage.
Le 22 Février, le colonel Assaï et dux lieutenants d’état-mayor japonais, travestis en coolies, furent appréhendés au moment où ils allaient faire sauter un pont sur la rivière Soungari, en Mandcourie. Ils passèrent au Conseil et furent pendus aux culées du même pont.

Card 10:

Sunken ships

Port Arthur, February 24, 1904.

View of the Port-Arthur Channel of February 24 when the Combat was Over. (A Japanese torpedo boat heads away, chased by the last cannon shots.)
On the 24th of February, at 3 in the morning, the Japanese wanted to try to block the entry to the port by means of merchant ships which they wanted to sink, but the Retvizan [misspelt in the above text] its firepower, together with that of the cannons of the fort destroyed, was on the look-out for the enemy ships in front of the entrance to the port. At dawn, 4 enemy vessels were sunk; several Japanes torpedo boat were severely damaged. Many of their crew drowned. In the background, one sees the Retvizan anchored at the mouth of the channel.

Comment:  I would like to point out an error in the above picture.  It refers to a vessel called the Revitzan, this should be Retvizan in English and French, or Retwisan in German.


Aspect de la passe de Port-Arthur le 24 de Février à la find du combat. (Les torpilleurs japonais fuyant devant les derniers coups de canon.)

Le 24 de Février, à 3 heures du matin, les Japonais voulurent essayer de barrer l’entré du ort au moyen de navires marchands qu’ills voulaient couler, mais le Retvizan [non s’appelle pas Revitzan!], veillait; son feu détruisit, avec les canons des forts, les bateaux ennemis avant l’entrée du port. A l’aube, quatre navires étaient coulés; quelques torpilleurs japonais furent tres endommagés. Plusieurs de leurs ´quipages furent noyés. Au fond, on aperçoit le Retvizan mouillé à l’entrée de la passe.

This is another example of a rosy picture in favour of the Russians. Where are the fleeing Japanese torpedo-boats?

Card 11:

Cold Troops

Crossing of Lake Baikal by Russian Troops

 Over Lake Baikal by Russian troops (50 ° below zero! February 27).

A railway line was laid over Lake Baikal, but only for the transshipment of munitions and artillery.  Five thousand Russian soldiers per day continued the 38 kilometre journey by sled, during one of the most terrible cold spells.

Comment: While it seems to be a mistranslation that the railroad was made over the lake, this was actually the case in the winter of 1903-04, and at other times, a ferry was used, while the Circum-Baikal Railway was being finished.

The number of troops that could have crossed per day might well be open to question.  The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica gives 40,000 troops as having been transported in summer.


Traversée du lac Baïkal par les troupes russes (50°sous zéro! 27 Février).

La voie ferrée est établie sur le lac Baïkal, mais elle ne sert qu’au transbordement des munitions et de l’artillerie. Les soldats continuent à traverser les 38 kilomètres en traineau, à raison de 5,000 hommes par jour, par un froid des plus terribles.


Battle by the Yalu

Skirmish by the Yalu River

Skirmish between Cossack and Japanes near the shore of the Yalu [a.k.a. Yalü, Amnok, or Oryokko] on March 13.

During one of the skirmishes which took place, the Cossacks killed the horses of the Japanese, who then took off on foot to join neighbouring positions. One Japanese soldier was killed with the thrust of a lance.

Comment: The last sentence is the above text is laughable, from the viewpoint of “reporting”. It may be suspected that this is poetic licence thrust upon artistic licence. Surely no one cared about one soldier in those days – how many more would have died of cold and hunger? It has already been seen how these cards celebrate the death of  “one” soldier.

Escarmouche entre Cosaques et Japonais vers les rive du Yalou le 13 Mars.

Dans une des escarmouches qui ont eu lieu, les Cosaques, àyant tué les chevaux des Japonais, ceux-ci s’enfuirent à pied rejoignant leurs postes voisins. Un Japonais fut tué d’un coup de lance.

Belgian Postcards Printed by Gouweloos [Presumably]

Here are the five of ten postcards, which were found to be without any  sign of publication or authorship, although some of these cards have been found online, labelled on the top right, with advertisement for chicory  “A la Belle Jardinière” by a Lille, France company named C. Bériot.  The printer, or printer and publisher, is a very gender-inclusive Belgium firm, Gouweloos Frere et Soeur [Gouweloos Brother and Sister]  with an agent in París.  Thirteen of these cards are found on the website of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.   The following have been cleaned up of all writing, digitally brightened, and made multi-lingual in their labelling.  No guarantees exist as to accuracy of the translations, but several hours were dedicated to researching the possibilities.

The first card is with the leaders of the two warring countries.

Nicholas II, Mutsuhito

Emperors of Russia and Japan


The defect on the left side of the image of the czar is the result of sticking to another postcard. The image of Mutsuhito seems to have been copied from another, this Japanese-oriented website, Wa-pedia, has a picture which can be compared to the above. Using the French spelling, two copies of this image were found on the Internet, one without blemish, used by the C. Bériot company of Lille, for Chicorée Belle Jardinière; and the other, the image that I had scanned!  These particular images will disappear with time, so they are not linked.
The second image is for the two important generals of this war.

Gen. Kuropatkin, Kodama

Generals Kuropatkin and Kodama


Alexeieff et Makaroff

Russian Admirals Alexeyev and Makarov

Infantry soldiers of Russo-Japanese War

Russian Infantry in Manchuria, and Japanese Infantry.


Russian Recon, Cavalry

Russian Scouts or Reconnaissance, and Cossack Cavalry

The translations of the last few cards are not reliable in the Asian languages.

Motono, Kurino

Japanese Ambassadors to Paris and Saint Petersburg, Motono and Kurino

It is strange that Kurino’s name is with an initial, and that Motono’s is not. Kurino was difficult to find, and his initial is not “L”, as his given name is Shinichiro.  The image displayed above is remotely similar to one published in the French Le Patriote Illustré  on 14-02-1904 , according to data in Wikipedia, where the picture appears for webpages in German and French only, under lists of ambassadors.   A better version of the preceding can be found on a Russian site, Русско-японская война 1904-1905, on [Slide 7]

The next card remotely deals with Russian transportation and communications during the war.

Baikal Stn. & Russian Signals

Lake Baikal Station and Russian Signals in the Mountains


Ito, Katsura

Marquis Ito and Prime Minister Katsura Taro, [Кацура Таро]

Comment: A couple of things are wrong here.  First, the image of Ito, like that of the Tsar, is damaged, caused by two cards sticking together.   In Asian style, the family name comes first.  This is correct, in the case of Ito, but wrong, in the case of Katsura. In translating, an attempt was made to be as literal as possible. More mistakes will be noticed in the two missing pictures, one which incorrectly identifies the nationality of a ship.  A further problem is the naming of a general that has not yet been found on the web, not even in Russian. The unknown general is Pusirensk, perhaps he disappeared after the revolution.

Pusirensk, Rudnjew

General Pusirensk and Captain Rudnev of the Varyag.

Comment: After several days of research, absolutely no clues were found as to the identity of Captain Pusirensk.  The name does not seem to exist.  A “sky” termination would seem more logical, but no results arose with that possibility, neither with variants for the second letter, “u”, as the French transliterate the Russian “u” sound as “ou”, as in Captain Roudnieff, a.k.a. Rudnev in English, though Roodnieff would explain the pronunciation better.  The captain, by the way, looks much younger in this depiction than in the photos found on-line.

Captain Rudnev was a Russian hero.  Indeed, he was so heroic, that even his Japanese assailants awarded him a medal.  How often does one enemy award another in this modern age?.

Cruiser, Battleship, Torpedo Boat

The Cruiser VARYAG entering Chemulpo, a Battleship, and a Torpedo Boat

Comment: The translations for these last two cards took a lot of time.  It is hoped that the results for the Asian languages need not embarrass the translator.  With respect to the Varyag at Chemulpo, the first translation which came automatically suggested that the ship was sinking.  This does not match the picture, so that translation was discarded.  Small dictionaries gave unsatisfactory results.  By reading all the French definitions, it was finally decided to use the translation which was put onto the image, but “puts into Chemulpo”, mariner-language for “enters Chemulpo” was selected.

The lower picture suggests a labelling error, but it was decided to go with the original text. Although the picture is supposedly of Russian vessels, the flag on the battleship is clearly Japanese.  The actual design of the ship, however, may have only been in the imagination of the artist.  It is remotely possible, that it is the Mikasa, shown immediately below.

A Couple of Cards from Japan.

We start with a bilingual card showing the most important ship of the Japanese in the War, the Mikasa.  Perhaps at a later date, some more of the writing can be removed, but at the risk of degrading the image too much.  It was this writer’s intention to keep the date on which the postcard was sent, 16/6/1906.

Mikasa Battleship

Mikasa : The Commanding Ship of the United Squadron

The next picture is offered in the Public Domain, where valid.

Attack on Lüshun Port

Japanese Attack on Port Arthur

The text under the picture and at the bottom of the card has been translated as follows, subject to verification:

Battle of the Sea of Japan, 27 of May Year 37 [Meiji Year]

Guerra del Mar Japonais 27 de mayo 38 Mayo 37 2 de la tarde

(This data is being saved for what translation I have of the Japanese text in the above picture : h__p_//

The next item shows a view of the High Court of Justice at Port Arthur in a Japanese post-card dated 1913 (modified by the author as to contrast).

Port Arthur Japanese Courthouse

Port Arthur – High Court of Justice from Kumamoto Street

The postmark by the Imperial Japanese Post Office (I.J.P.O) is almost perfectly centred, it is off by only 4 pixels out of 838, giving an accuracy of 99.5 %!  One hundred years ago, such accuracy was often the norm.

A Postcard from Great Britain

The following post-card seems to be in the public domain – there is no name of the author.  The publisher was Rapael Tuck and Sons, Series “Oilette, The Russo-Japanese War, # 6484.  There is some handwriting on this, but it was unreadable for this author, because of the dark background, varying the contrast of the image did not help.  The idea of this card seems to be that the Russians ended up attacking some British trawlers in the Battle of Tsushima, but this is just a conjecture.

According to this author’s notes, the item was sent from Saint Petersburg on September 28, 1904.  It would therefore be in the Public Domain both in the United States and Great Britain.

Ship stopped

Warship stopping British Merchantman

To end, here is an extremely cropped picture of the Japanese Emperor from Tuck’s, series “Notable Japanese” under the Oilette label.  The number was cut away, and is unknown.  In Cassel’s History, Vol. I, where this image is found in black and white, the name of an artist appeared in the position of the label “Russian Warship”, something like Hodgson or Hudson. The post-mark date was not readable, late 19th Century (1895), or perhaps as late as 1935, but within the 70 years required to be used in the United States.  The image was digitally modified by the author, which makes it a new work.

Meiji Mikado

His Majesty the Japanese Emperor

The appearance seems a bit too Western, does he not resemble a person from the the European South?


A Spanish Postcard

The following artwork belongs to the Catalan artist, Ricardo Verdugo Landi.  Another ship has been found under his name in the series under question, the “Pelayo”, among others that are not accessible, but he does have several painting with the sea as their theme.


The Cruiser Takachiho of the Japanese Squadron


Бой у Порт-Артура


Bibliography (to be expanded)

Cassell’s History of the Russo-Japanese War (available in 4 volumes at

Dower, John W. Yellow Promise, Yellow Peril. Foregin Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008.

Hare, James H.  A Photographic record of the Russo-Japanese  War, New York, P. F. Collier & Son.

The Military and Political Memoirs of General Kuropatikin, McClure’s Magazine, S. S. McClure Co., Sept. 1908, on Project Gutenberg.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan.  “Argentina’s help during the Russo-Japanese War”, in  Amigos Across the Ocean : Episodes in Japan-Latin America Relations.  This is a link to the relevant page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website: LINK.

“Russian Japanese War”, in Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 23,  pp. 919 -930, on

Nish, Ian. On the Periphery of the Russo-Japanese War, Part I.  Suntory and Toyota International Centres
for Economics and Related Disciplines , London School of Economics and Political Science,  April 2004.

RIA Novosti. “The Russo-Japanese War” in Visualrian.

Topics in Chronicling America – Russo-Japanese War.  Library of Congress.

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