Norm Koger Games

Distant Guns
The Russo-Japanese War at Sea

Storm Eagle Studios - Distant Guns

Distant Guns, The Russo-Japanese War at Sea is a 3d, realtime simulation covering the naval battles of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. It was released in July of 2006, by Storm Eagle Studios. See Storm Eagle Studios' Distant Guns site for more information. A number of reviews and previews have appeared in the game industry press.


The Wargamer


Net Wargaming Italia


Wargamer - Award for ExcellenceArmchair General - Wargame of the Year, 2006

Previews (Pre-Release)
The Wargamer
3D Gamers


The game is being discussed on Gamesquad, where players and fans can participate in a Distant Guns specific forum.

Why the Russo-Japanese War?

A lot of folks seem to wonder why Storm Eagle Studios decided to focus on the Russo-Japanese War for our first title. It's a fair question. The conflict isn't all that well known in our part of the world. Clearly, it doesn't have the market tested sales potential of World War II, the American Civil War, Napoleonics, or even World War I. I've received a few fairly nasty emails from folks who are actually angry that we are wasting our development time on the RJW when we could be doing something "fun" (more appealing to the mass market). What in the world were these guys thinking?

Well, you see, I have a serious fascination with the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1974, quite by accident, I ended up with a copy of Denis and Peggy Warner's The Tide at Sunrise. Without anything more interesting on the "unread stack", and without a great deal of enthusiasm, I began to read. Much to my surprise, I found myself immersed in a story of heroes and villains, giants and petty fools, rising and setting suns, emperors and the children of gods.

If you haven't read a good history of the Russo-Japanese War, there just isn't any way to understand how fantastic the thing was.

For the Russians, it was a campaign at the end of the Earth. In 1904, it took three weeks to travel by train from Moscow to the nearest area of the war zone. Three weeks. At the end of the rails were Port Arthur, Vladivostok, and the even more remote outpost of Nikolayevsk. It is amazing that the Russians managed to base a formidable fleet and army there in time of peace, much less fight a war. The men who ran Russia's most remote outposts could all have been created by storytellers. Some were hateful and worse than useless, others noble and competent. All of them were interesting.

And the Japanese? Over the space of half a century, they had by sheer will pulled themselves from feudal barbarism - completely impotent in the face of even the smallest of Western powers - to become the strongest nation on their side of the planet. Boys born into a world of swords and spears were sent abroad, returning home to become fiercely competent leaders of a modern army and navy created from scratch over the course of a single lifetime. A people who firmly believed their emperor to be descended from a god prepared to seize their rightful place among nations. As with the Russians, the ranks of the Japanese army and navy were filled with fascinating characters.

The land campaign was massive, bloody, and punctuated by sharp battles. 400,000 troops were sent into action at Mukden. The issue was most directly decided on land. But the heart of the war was the naval campaign. Unlike the Russians, the Japanese had no rail line running from Tokyo to the theater of battle. Every soldier, blanket, and bullet had to be moved by sea. The Russians knew this, thus their fleet at Port Arthur and Vladivostok. While they honestly expected a decisive triumph over Japan's new navy, they also knew such a victory was not necessary. All they had to do was disrupt the Japanese shipping lifeline, and the weight of Russian arms would inevitably carry the day. The Japanese were also aware of this fact. On the eve of war, the Japanese admiral told his assembled staff that they had to prepare to "win one hundred victories in one hundred battles."* Togo knew that he had to perform perfectly to prevent Russian victory.

Knowing that the main threat was the Port Arthur force, the bulk of the Japanese navy set up a blockade of that base. This left only enough available naval forces to engage in a cat and mouse game against the Russian Vladivostok squadron. Again and again, the cruisers based at Vladivostok sortied against the Japanese supply lifeline as the main fleet occupied the Togo's attentions, knowing that they were no match for the strength the Japanese could spare to throw at them. If just for the actions of the Vladivostok squadron, the war would be memorable. But the story that elevates this conflict from "interesting" to "epic" is the voyage of the Second Pacific Squadron.

I can't even begin to cover that story here. Hopefully, a few bare facts will give some hint of the magnificent effort of the Russian Baltic Fleet's voyage. The route covered 18000 miles, down the Atlantic coast of Africa and across the Indian Ocean. There were no friendly bases to assist on the way. At the end of the trip, 8 months after leaving home waters, the entire force was destroyed in a single battle. Odysseus and his boys sailed across one side of a small, sheltered sea. A few thousand years later, we still read their story in school. Homer's talents were wasted on them. Imagine what he could have done with the story of the Russian Second Pacific Squadron: morning prayers on the decks of the ships, monkeys stealing icons and jumping overboard, an executive officer who knows of the Admiral's habit of throwing binoculars overboard when angry, and arranges to have an entire case of binoculars brought aboard the flagship before its departure...

Much is made of the claim that this was the first "modern" war. There were trenches and machine guns, battleships, torpedoes, and submarines. That is all very interesting, but it is not the reason I find the period so compelling. The thing that really draws me to the RJW is that fact that it is the last war that seems fit to be described by a poet.

Why to Russo-Japanese War? Because the opportunity existed, and I just couldn't pass it up.

*"One hundred victories in one hundred battles..." Interestingly enough, this was more than a mission statement. It was also a reference to the failure of diplomacy. Sun Tsu: "To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill."

Suggested Reading

Research for this title started well before anyone ever thought of computer games. This is a very well documented campaign. Quite a bit of the literature is very good.

For a web based reference, see The Russo Japanese War Research Society - This site provides a good introduction to the Russo-Japanese War.

The best references on my office bookshelves:

Very Highly Recommended

The McCully Report; Newton A. McCully; Naval Institute Press, 1971 - This is a reprint of a wonderful document submitted to the Secretary of the Navy in 1906. It reads a bit like a modern version of the adventures of Marco Polo.

The Tide at Sunrise, A History of the Russo Japanese War 1904-1905; Denis & Peggy Warner; Charterhouse, NY, 1974 - This is the book that started my fascination with the topic, almost 30 years ago. It is an excellent general history of the war.

The Tsar's Last Armada, Constantine Pleshakov, Basic Books, 2002 - Concentrating primarily upon the epic voyage of the Russian Baltic fleet, this book is a genuine pleasure to read. Unlike many serious historians, Mr. Pleshakov is not afraid of a poetic turn of phrase. Some Russo-Japanese War scholars do find fault with a few details, but nothing else I've seen does as good a job of capturing the culture of the Russian navy of 1904 as this work.


The Fleet That Had to Die; Richard Hough; Birlinn Limited, 2000 - A good though rather dry account of the voyage and final battle of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

The Devil's Device, Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo; Edwyn Gray, Naval Institute Press, 1991 - The torpedo and the mine were the twin terror weapons of the war at sea in 1904/05. This book helps shed a bit of light on why this should be the case.

Quick Overviews

Command Magazine Issue #19, Port Arthur; XTR Corporation, 1992

Strategy & Tactics Magazine Issue #59, The Russo-Japanese War, Strategic Simulations Inc., 1976

Technical References

Warships of the Russo-Japanese War - Volumes I, II; S. Suliga; Arsenal, 1995 - Russian Language. Find it. Treasure it. This is the indispensable technical reference on the ships of the Russo-Japanese War. Nothing else comes close.

Jane's Fighting Ships, 1905-1906 - Good for historical "feel", though a bit light on usable data.

Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905 - Excellent technical reference.

Warships of the Imperial Russian Navy; A.E. Tarasa; Harvest, Minsk, 2000 - Russian Language. Quite a bit of oddball information. Definitely interesting to look through.

Updated February 23rd, 2007.

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