~April-June 1904: Hidden turns
April 1904: With some fearing the US may be drawn in to the Russo-Japanese War, the annual US naval program includes two repeat Vermont class battleships, two armoured cruisers, and four scout cruisers, along with eight submarines, five suitable for operations in the open sea.
April 1904: The Russian Pacific Fleet under Admiral Stephan Makarov attempts to break out of Port Arthur to cut the Japanese supply line to Korea. However the Japanese have been laying extensive offensive minefields outside Port Arthur. As the Russians attempt to leave port, two battleships strike mines, with the flagship Petropavlovsk sunk and Sevastopol crippled. More critically, Admiral Makarov is lost along with the Petropavlovsk.
April 1904: While Russian troops moved into Korea after the Japanese landing, their orders where not to engage the Japanese until they reached the Yalu River. With the Russians falling back, the Japanese have been advancing easily against token Korean opposition. The two armies will finally engage in the Battle of the Yalu River as the Russians attempt to prevent a Japanese crossing into China. The battle will be a hard fought but the Japanese force the Russians from their positions and begin advancing along the Liaodong peninsula toward Dal'niy.
April 1904: With the death of Bartolomé Masó in 1902 and fragmentation of the Cuban rebels, insurgency on the island has been gradually decreasing. In an effort to bring an end to the lingering conflict, Congress passes the Cuban Organic Act. A virtual copy of the 1902 Philippines Organic Act, it promises limited self government with an elected lower house and US appointed upper house once peace is restored to Cuba.
April 1904: The British expedition into Tibet has encountered no opposition during its advance until reaching the Gyantse Dzong fortress guarding the approaches to Lhasa. There the Dalai Lama has assembled the best Tibetan troops with Tibet's only modern weapons. British commander Brigadier James MacDonald, who has taken great pains to avoid combat during his advance, attempts to negotiate the fortress surrender for several days. Eventually, with the Tibetans rejecting his offer, he orders the fortress stormed, with it falling will minimal effort. With the only resistance he will face overcome, MacDonald continues his advance, leaving a small garrison to hold the fortress.
May 1904: The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War has placed the French in a very difficult position. On one side, they are anxious to support their most important ally Russia to maintain the Entente. On the other, their support can not be too overt or extensive for fear of alienating the British and jeopardising the possibility of bringing them into the Entente. The solution adopted by Prime Minister is to avoid giving any material assistance, confining French support to diplomatic actions. His hope is this will allow him to balance British and Russian sensibilities.
May 1904: Since the loss of the battleship Petropavlovsk to mines, the Russians have been laying their own offensive minefields. The Petropavlovsk's sinking has also emboldened Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro, with him ordering his battleships to bombard Port Arthur. This results in the battleships Noto and Yashimo both striking mines on one such mission. The Noto sinks within minutes after a magazine explosion, while the Yashimo strikes two mines, flooding a boiler room and her underwater torpedo room, resulting in a severe list. Despite efforts to save her, the Yahimo will sink several hours later.
May 1904: Brigadier James MacDonald's Tibetan expedition finally reaches Lhasa, entering the city unopposed only to find the Dalai Lama has fled. With no Tibetans to negotiate with, MacDonald negotiates with the Chinese resident. Under the terms of the Lhasa Convention the British recognise and guarantee Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in return for the Chinese guaranteeing to prevent any other nations establishing any control or influence in Tibet. The British will continue to occupy Lhasa and several other strategic points until replace by a 'suitable' Chinese garrison. Something which there is no possibility of due to the Chinese Civil War. In fact Viceroy Lord Curzon has given secret instructions under no circumstances should the Chinese be allowed to take control.
May 1904: Southern Qing General Liu Yongfu's Second Army launches its offensive against the Yousheng Army in Hunan. By this point the war, most of the Northern Qing's trained pre war troops have become casualties, with Guixiang's force increasingly composed of ill trained conscripts who's morale is close to breaking due to losses. Within a week, the Yousheng Army breaks and begins a full retreat back toward Hubei Province.
May 1904: With the Japanese advancing along the Liaodong Peninsula, the Russians have formed a strong defensive position at Nanshan, the peninsulas narrowest. The Battle of Nanshan continues for three days before the Japanese farce the Russians to retire. Though at the cost of casualties four times greater than the Russians. The battle also sees more ammunition expended than the entire Franco-Prussian War. This along with similar reports from the Chinese Civil War will force all nations to dedicate far greater resources to logistical support in future. With their defeat at Nanshan the Russians abandon the strategic town of Dal'niy, falling back to Port Arthur instead. This allows the Japanese to advance unopposed, with Port Arthur under siege by August.
June 1904: With his Conservative government having governed for nearly five years, British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour calls for new elections. The campaign is fought over four key issues, social reform, devolution, women's suffrage and Imperial integration, with the Conservatives focusing on the record on the last issue. However the election results in a Liberal landslide victory, with them taking 342 seats, while the Conservatives plummet to 216. Except for the Irish Parliamentary Coalition who fall to just eight seats, all the minor parties see an improvement in their representation, with the Federalist Party taking 74 seats including 19 in England and the Labour Party 30. The election also sees Jan Hofmeyr step down a Dominion Secretary, to be replaced by New Zealander Joseph Ward.
June 1904: With the Northern Qing forces in Hunan being in full retreat, Southern Qing Commander in Chief General Lu Yongxiang, despite fears regarding the Second Army becoming over extended, agrees to allow General Liu Yongfu to continue his offensive into Hubei with the aim of retaking Wuhan. Fears regarding the rate of the Southern Qing advance lead to the vital Hanyang Arsenal being evacuated to Zhengzhou in Henan. This victory, along with the raid on Tianjin, has seen a major boost in the Southern Qing's prestige, convincing Duanfang, the Northern Qing Governor of Sichuan the time is right to switch sides. Despite having serious misgivings, General Lu authorises General Yin Chang commanding the Third Army in Sichuan to move to occupy as much of the province as is possible without 'undue risk.' General Yin, who has been drawing up plans for an offensive to capitalise on the Northern Qing Nanfang Army's depleted state for some months, choose to take a very liberal interpretation of his orders and throws the full weight of his forces against Dong Fuxiang's troops. His instincts prove correct as the Nanfang Army breaks into a headlong rout, offering no effective resistance to the Southern Qing advance.
June 1904: To replace the loss of the battleships Noto and Yashimo, the Japanese order a pair of powerful armoured cruisers as the Tsukuba class. Intended to be armed with four 10” guns, experience in the Battle of the Yellow Sea results in a change to 12” guns. With this heavy armament and capable of 23 knots, they will be the most powerful cruisers thus far ordered by any nation.
June 1904: Since the Southern Qing raid on Tianjin, Yuan Shikai has been actively planning a coup against the government of the Dowager Empress Cixi in Beijing, managing to gain the support of both Ma Anling in the Nanfang Army and Cao Kun in the Yousheng Army, as well as tentative support from both the Germans and Japanese. With the ongoing Northern Qing collapse in Hebai and Sichuan, he judges the moment to be ideal. Taking 8,000 of his best troops and with German agreement, he moves by rail to Beijing. There he is successful in seizing control of the Forbidden City and imprisoning the Northern Qing Grand Council. At the same time his allies Ma Anling and Cao Kun imprison Guixiang and Dong Fuxiang, taking control of the Nanfang and Yousheng Armies, effectively giving him control of the Northern Qing. With the success of his coup, Yuan immediately switches Northern Qing support from the Russians to Japanese in the war in Manchuria. While Northern Qing supplies food and ammunition along with military support provided by Honghuzi forces under Zhang Zoulin will prove useful, it will be the Northern Qing provision of vital intelligence from the local Chinese population which will give the Japanese a decisive advantage in the war.