Battle of Yalu River

The Japanese main attack began in the early morning hours of 27 April 1904.

By 0300, the balance of the 12th Division had crossed the river and was advancing in three columns. While the Japanese 12th Division advancing on the right, the Guards Division was moving into position in the center. By 0400, the artillery of the Guards Division was within range of the exposed Russian lines. The Japanese First Army continued its three-pronged advance and was across the Yalu by midnight of the 29 April 1904 with very little opposition. Limited visibility masked the Japanese movements from Russian observation. When the fog finally lifted about 0500, the Japanese artillery opened up on the Russian formations.

The 2nd Division took its position on the center, advancing on the newly erected causeways leading from the town of Wiju and thus catching the Russians in a pincer movement at the hamlet of Chuliengcheng, on the Manchurian-side of the Yalu River opposite Wiju. By 1000, the Russians were in full retreat, with a Japanese attempt to block their escape towards Fenghuangcheng to the north.

The Japanese had a number of 4.7 inch howitzers, custom-made by Krupp, which they used with devastating effect on the exposed Russians. In light of these developments, General Zasulitch was strongly encouraged by his staff to pull back to a more defensible position. However, the general stubbornly refused to concede, even sending a telegram to the Tsar in Saint Petersburg informing that victory was soon certain. He chose to ignore General Kuropatkin's phased withdrawal orders (as confirmed by Kuropatkin's chief of staff, General V.V. Sakarov).

General Kuroki had planned to continue the advance of 12th Division to envelope the Russian left. However, now that enemy artillery had been neutralized, he decided to engage the Guards and the 2nd Division in a simultaneous assault. It was at this point the Japanese encountered the first serious resistance from the Russian lines. The advance of the 2nd Division was disrupted for a time, and had any of the Russian artillery survived, the outcome might have been different. The Russians were driven from their trenches with severe losses, and the survivors fell back to the tops of the hills, the position that Zasulitch’s advisors had unsuccessfully encouraged him to fall back to earlier. During the retreat, a counterattack was made by elements of the Russian 12th East Siberian Rifle Regiment, which was cut to pieces and opened further the breaks in the Russian lines.

The Russian position now became wholly untenable, and remaining formations now were in danger of being encircled. General Zasulitch ordered to retreat. The 11th East Siberian Rifle Regiment, which was covering a retreat, was cut off by the Japanese and suffered large casualties during its breakthrough back to the other Russian forces. At the appearance of the Japanese 12th Division the Russian left flank panicked and collapsed.

At 1730 on 1 May 1904, remnants of the Russian Eastern Detachment either surrendered or escaped towards Fenghuangcheng to the north and the Battle for the Yalu River came to an end.

Lasting from 30 April to 1st May 1904 the battle of Yalu river was a victory for the Japanese who in defeating the Russian army showed that an Oriental Army could defeat a European one, seriously damaging Russian prestige in the process. The Yalu river divides Korea from Manchuria and this victory in the Russo-Japanese War allowed Iwao Oyama's forces to cross the river and enter Manchuria. General Alexei Kuropatkin's orders were to resist the Japanese invasion by using a delaying action which he interpreted as mount a static defense along the Yalu with serious consequences. This war like the American civil war held many lessons about the changing nature of warfare at this time, lessons largely if not totally ignored by the Europeans who would pay the price in the trenches of the First World War.