Russo–Japanese War

(1904–1905)
   What started as a “glorious little war” to win support for the tsarist regime ended in catastrophic defeat that almost spelled the end of the House of Romanov. The Russian military intelligence service and the Okhrana were poorly prepared for war. The Okhrana was unable to counter Japanese intelligence operations in Moscow and St. Petersburg or in Manchuria. The military intelligence department of the general staff had only a very poor understanding of the Japanese enemy, of whom they were totally contemptuous. The best examples of military intelligence incompetence were their failures to foresee the Japanese attack on Port Arthur and the imperial fleet’s doom at Tsushima.
   The Japanese fleet struck Port Arthur, China, catching the Russian navy unaware and unprepared. Japanese spies inside Port Arthur apparently produced excellent order of battle information on the Russian forces. The Japanese specialized in recruiting low-level employees and servants who could provide intelligence about the military. When the fleet left the Baltic to relieve the garrison at Port Arthur, it had been given no information about the Japanese order of battle. The fleet got into its first action with a group of British fishing boats, which Russian commanders believed were Japanese boats. The socalled Battle of Dogger Bank, which caused a major diplomatic crisis with Britain, resulted from the fleet’s blindness—a wonderful example of the fog of war.
   Russian intelligence poorly prepared the tsarist commanders for war in Asia. With little real knowledge of the Japanese navy or army, it lacked basic data about Japanese military units or warships. Military counterintelligence was weak as well. In contrast, the Japanese had agents within the Russian base at Port Arthur, who provided critical intelligence for the Japanese surprise attack that began the war. Inside the Russian empire, Japanese agents monitored developments though such mundane means as reading the Russian press. They also liaisoned with other military attachés to initiate contacts with revolutionaries such as Father Georgi Gapon. The Japanese were willing to support violence by revolutionary parties to force St. Petersburg to divert troops from the front to quell internal revolution. The Okhrana’s dogged interest in the subversion of the domestic enemy blinded it to the greater threat from Japan.
   See also Revolution of 1905.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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