Soviet invasion of Manchuria
gigatos | November 6, 2021
Operation August Storm or the Battle of Manchuria began on August 8, 1945, with the Soviet invasion of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo; the larger invasion encompassed neighboring Mengjiang, as well as northern Korea, southern Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. It marked the Soviet Union”s first and only military action against the Empire of Japan during World War II, not counting actions taken in the Russo-Japanese Manchurian conflict.
The invasion began two days after the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima by the United States and one day before the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. This invasion was a product of the Yalta conference, where Stalin had agreed to Allied requests to break the Neutrality Pact with Japan and enter the Pacific Theater of World War II within three months after the end of the war in Europe.
After the Japanese defeat at the battle of Jaljin Gol in 1939, the Empire of Japan renounced any attempt to expand into Mongolia and Siberia, which was expressed in the Neutrality Pact signed two years later and which was to last for five years. For this reason, Adolf Hitler could not count on Japanese support in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Worse, the pro-Soviet German spy Richard Sorge alerted the Soviet Stavka that the Japanese were not planning to attack the Soviet Union, and General Georgi Zhukov was able to withdraw troops from the Russian Far East and move them to Moscow, which was under attack by Nazi Germany (see Battle of Moscow).
The Red Army was busy fighting the German Wehrmacht between 1941 and 1945, and during this time Stalin rejected the idea of opening the Far Eastern front. Finally, at the Yalta Conference in 1945, Stalin agreed with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the Soviet Union would go to war with Japan three months after the German defeat in Europe. Initially, Stalin requested Sakhalin Island and the Kuriles, but later asked for greater privileges in Manchuria, otherwise, in his own words, “it would be very difficult for me and Molotov to explain to the Soviet people why Russia was going to war with Japan. The Korean question was not clearly defined at this conference.
Willing to keep his word, Stalin placed Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky in charge of three Soviet Fronts (Army Groups), which were to encircle Manchuria and annihilate the Guandong Army stationed there. Planning began in April, and mobilization of various units located in Europe 10,000 km to the east began. Although most of the reorganization of units took place between May and July, as the campaign began, troops continued to arrive from Europe. Between May and August the Stavka (Soviet high command) had sent to the Far East more than 400,000 men, 7137 guns and mortars, 2119 tanks and self-propelled guns, etc., which joined the forces already stationed in the area.
In total there were about 80 Red Army divisions. Of the 5,000 tanks they possessed, some 3,700 were the famous T-34s. One third of the 1,577,225 men posted were used for service or support. The artillery arm was composed of 26,137 pieces of heavy artillery and 1,852 of light artillery. The Soviet Air Force had 5,368 aircraft in this war. Among the naval forces of the Soviet Navy were the Pacific Fleet (about 165,000 men, 416 ships – including two cruisers, one leader, 12 destroyers – 78 submarines, 1382 combat aircraft and 2550 guns and mortars), commanded by Admiral Ivan Stepanovich Yumashev, and the Amur River Flotilla (12,500 men, 126 amphibious vehicles, 68 combat aircraft, 199 guns and mortars), commanded by Rear-Admiral Neon V. Antonov. The land border of the Soviet Union was covered by 21 fortified areas, as well as with the border troops of Primorye, Khabarovsk and Transbaikalia border districts. The commander-in-chief of the Soviet troops in the Far East was Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky and the commander-in-chief of the Mongolian troops was Marshal Khorloogiin Choibalsan. The actions of the Navy and the Air Force were coordinated by Admiral Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov and Air Chief Marshal Alexander Novikov. However, the most important factor was the officers” experience gained during the Great Patriotic War.
The Japanese were aware of the arrival of troops, and even the fact that senior Soviet officers were dressed as non-commissioned officers failed to deceive the enemy. Nevertheless, the Japanese underestimated the threat, and some strategists suggested that the attack would be made in the spring of 1946.
The force that would oppose the Red Army would be the Guandong Army, accustomed to easy victories against the National Revolutionary Army of China, although forewarned by the defeat against the Soviets in 1939. The Japanese defeats in other fronts (Burma, Philippines), had motivated since the end of 1944 the transfer of veterans from Manchuria, and the Japanese replacements sent to that area were usually conscripts, reservists or inferior troops. General Otsuzo Yamada commanded this army, which was spread over a large territory, some 1.5 million km², although the main units were in central Manchuria and Korea. General Yamada was in charge of two Area Armies (Group of Armies) and an independent Army, although he later received an Army and an Area Army.
In total, General Kita had 10 infantry divisions and a mixed brigade. His strength was 222,157 men, and he was responsible for eastern Manchukuo.
In total, General Ushiroku had 8 infantry divisions, 4 mixed brigades, and two tank brigades. His strength was 180,971 men, and he was responsible for central and western Manchukuo.
Additional forces: (assigned after the start of hostilities).
Manchuria was very important to the Japanese war effort, as it had the largest concentration of Japanese industries outside of Japan, and Manchurian territory was much more difficult to reach by American bombing raids. Realizing the poor quality of the once excellent Guandong Army, the Japanese general staff ordered that in the event of a Soviet attack the Manchukuo borders should be held with few troops, while the bulk of Japanese forces would be withdrawn to the more industrialized areas of central and border Korea. However, these orders came too late, and by August 1945, they were not executed.
After the Soviet disasters of Operation Barbarossa and the Winter War, Soviet strategic thinking evolved rapidly. The erroneous idea of responding to an attack with a counterattack without considering enemy capabilities or the actual position of their troops was gradually eradicated, as was the idea of conducting a successful offensive without restraint. Indeed, at Kursk, the Soviets responded to the German offensive with an intricate defense, and then, when the enemy was exhausted, they responded with two counterattacks (operation Kutuzov and operation Rumyantsev), which were limited, so as not to overextend the flanks.
Indeed, the Soviet generals had learned from their mistakes and now showed more initiative, thanks to Stalin”s relaxation of the political control of the Red Army (see Great Purge). Finally, in Operation Bagration and in the Vistula-Oder offensive, Soviet officers seemed to have fully understood the “deep combat theory” of General Mikhail Tukhachevsky, executed on Stalin”s orders before the war and later rehabilitated. The coordination of all the armed forces on a wider battlefield demonstrated Soviet military maturity. In Manchuria, this maturity would be tested to the fullest, in difficult and varied terrain. Following the Soviet theories of the time, which stipulated that victory could only be achieved through an offensive, Soviet strategists found it necessary to plan a broad and rapid offensive, which would be adapted to the changing geography of Manchuria. It was deemed necessary that in offensives all possible forces should be used, with small reserves remaining to repel enemy counterattacks. The simple conception of the Soviet attack made use of surprise to achieve its objectives, since it was necessary to confuse the enemy, besides, the generals had to count on initiative, since in case the strategy of their attack was discovered, the general would have to improvise another strategy, with the objective of keeping the enemy in expectation.
In Manchuria the importance of infantry as the basic attack unit was increased. It was considered that the support of artillery, tanks and aircraft was only used to compensate for the loss of infantry and to facilitate their advance. Tanks were recommended to attack only enemy infantry, always avoiding a tank battle, relegating to artillery and anti-tank weapons the task of destroying enemy vehicles. Nevertheless, as part of the initiative shown by the officers, Soviet tanks did engage in combat with enemy tanks, but only when they had overwhelming numerical superiority. Aware that a large tank force could wipe out infantry formations by attacking them from the flanks and that they could assault fortified positions, assisting engineers, the Soviets forbade small tank units to be fragmented. Fragmentation of a mechanized corps was also strictly forbidden.
The strategy selected was the double encirclement. The Transbaikal front (block T on the map) would attack from the west of Manchuria, while the 1st Far Eastern Front would attack from the east. These Soviet fronts would converge between Mukden and Harbin. The 2nd Far Eastern Front would support the two main attacks, attacking from northern Manchuria, linking up with the bulk of the armies in Harbin. Operations for the invasion of southern Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands would be subject to the progress of the ground offensive.
The most powerful Soviet front, the Transbaikal Front, had to advance from the south, avoiding as much as possible the Japanese fortifications. It could not delay, as it was required to advance 33 km per day for the mixed units and 70 km for the armored units, among which the 6th Guards Tank Army was the most important. The operation was fraught with risk, as it tolerated no delays, this included the supply lines, which would have to move just as fast.
The 1st Far Eastern Front faced the strongest Japanese defenses, however, it was heavily resourced and its supply lines would not extend as far as those of the Transbaikal Front, as its starting point was near Vladivostok. The 25th Army was given the important task of cutting off the Japanese escape route to Korea. Despite the high enemy density in the region, this front was required to advance 10 km per day, its first objective being Mudanjiang.
After the Transbaikal and 1st Far Eastern fronts met in the Changchun area, together they would advance towards Port Arthur to wipe out the remaining Japanese resistance.
The 1st Far Eastern Front should take charge of the Japanese 4th Army, deployed in northern Manchuria, and should prevent it from withdrawing to assist the bulk of Japanese forces to the south.
The double encirclement of Operation August Storm involved the rapid destruction of Japanese troops in Manchuria. Land links with Korea and the rest of China would be cut, and the isolated Japanese forces would be attacked on all flanks, forced to go on the defensive on all flanks.
The operation was carried out over an extensive territory, larger than that of Western Europe.
West and northwest Manchuria
Ten minutes before August 8, the Transbaikal Front crossed the border into Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. With the exception of the 36th and 39th armies, the Soviet forces met no resistance and covered between seventy and one hundred and fifty kilometers on the first day. The 36th Army broke through the Japanese defense lines and headed for Hailar, which it reached on August 9 and partly conquered. The 39th Army bypassed the Japanese strong positions, heading south, as it planned to cut the supply rail line and isolate the entrenched Japanese. The 6th Guards Tank Army reached the foothills of the Great Khingan Mountains on the first day, ahead of schedule.
On August 10, the 53rd Army was ordered to cross the border from Mongolia, aiming to exploit the victory won by the 6th Guards Tank Army, although this unit was far behind. Realizing the futility in defending the borders, General Yamada ordered a general withdrawal and the construction of a new defensive line. General Ushiroku, head of the 3rd Area Army, issued another order that contradicted Yamada”s, calling for the regions north and south of Mukden to be defended in order to protect the Japanese population. These orders only caused more confusion among the rapidly retreating troops.
On the night of August 9, after waiting in vain for the Japanese response, the commander of the 6th Guards Tank Army ordered the start of the arduous crossing of the Great Khingan Mountains, as the units following him were already reaching the mountain range at other points. After stopping for a while to remove the IX Mechanized Corps from the vanguard and put the 5th Guards Tank Corps in its place, the march continued. The IX Mechanized Corps had fuel supply problems, since it was using American Sherman tanks, with higher fuel consumption than the T-34 used by the V Guards Tank Corps. In the early morning of August 11, the two forward armored corps of the 6th Guards Tank Army crossed the Great Khingan Pass, and entered the great Manchurian plain, more favorable territory for tanks. That day the 5th Guards Tank Corps reached Lupei, without having engaged in combat. After advancing thirty hundred and fifty kilometers, the tanks encountered supply problems, as the advance had been too fast. Fuel began to be dispatched by air then, but the 12th and 13th were unproductive.
By the fourth day from the beginning of operations, the Transkaibal Front forces had reached the objectives planned for the fifth, without encountering serious opposition, except for the seizure of Hailar, which dragged on until August 18. Disgusted by the disasters in Hiroshima and Manchuria, the Emperor of Japan issued a cease-fire order on August 14, which was not transmitted by General Yamada to the front, which is why the Soviets continued the offensive. By August 14, all Soviet armies had already crossed the Great Khingan Mountains and Marshal Malinovsky ordered the conquest of Kalgan, Chihfeng, Mukden, Changchun, and Qiqihar by August 23.
On August 18, the Mongolian Mechanized Cavalry Group reached Kalgan, and after capturing the city, crossed the Great Wall of China and headed for Beiping, delivering captured enemy equipment on the way to the Eighth Route Army of the Chinese Communist Party, which was at war with the Republic of China. On the same day, the troops of the 17th Soviet Army, overwhelmed by the heat, finally reached the coast of the Bohai Sea.
On August 21, the 6th Guards Tank Army occupied Changchun and Mukden, although airborne troops had arrived in the cities two days earlier. Due to fuel shortages, it was decided that the troops participating in the seizure of Port Arthur would move by train.
Thereafter Japanese resistance diminished appreciably and the campaign was considered over. The fact that the Soviets broke through the Great Khingan Mountains unhindered was a serious mistake on the part of the Japanese generals. The lack of coordination among them also contributed to the rapid collapse of the front. The Japanese surrendered western Manchuria very easily, without offering resistance, unlike in Hailar. Subsequent Soviet supply problems were not exploited by the enemy, even when the 6th Guards Tank Army remained inactive for almost two days.
The task of the 1st Far Eastern Front was more complex. Fifty miles west of the border with the Soviet Union, the Japanese had built a series of large and complex fortresses, and had left advance troops on the border. The border sector defended by the 1st Area Army was shorter than those of the other units, and ran from north of Lake Janka to the Sea of Japan. Soviet planners decided to cross the enemy defensive line in the weakest areas, which the Japanese believed impossible for large units to break through, and to isolate the defensive fortifications. The bulk of the Soviet forces would continue to advance west, to prevent the formation of a new Japanese defensive line.
The Soviet attack began at midnight on August 8, and like the Transbaikal front, on this front the Soviets also did not employ artillery against the border defenses. A sudden storm drenched the attackers, and the rain did not stop until the early morning of August 9. However, the rain led the Japanese to believe that the Soviets would not attack in such conditions, so many border guards were surprised by the enemy.
The 5th Army, in the vanguard, carried out a two-phase attack. In the first, its forces crossed the fortified region of Volynsk, isolating the Japanese defenders; in the second, which lasted three days, sappers and self-propelled artillery units participated in the elimination of the encircled nuclei in the first. By the night of August 9, the 5th Army had opened a thirty-five kilometer breach in the Japanese defensive lines, and had penetrated between sixteen and twenty-two kilometers into enemy territory.
Meanwhile, on the right flank of the 5th Army, the 1st Red Flag Army was making its way through a thick forest twelve kilometers long. In front of the tanks of this army advanced three rifle divisions, which opened paths in the forest for the tanks. At noon on August 10, the Soviet units emerged from the forest and began to move much faster. The Japanese surrendered Linkou almost undefended and retreated to previously prepared defensive positions north and northwest of Mudanjiang.
In front of Lake Janka, the 35th Army repeated the same tactics of taking fortified areas that had been used by other units. In effect, advancing through swampy and flooded terrain, its soldiers cut off the Japanese strongholds and crossed the rivers that stood in their way, trying not to slow the pace of the march. When the Japanese realized that it was useless to defend their section of the border, they retreated to Mudanjiang. After August 13, Japanese resistance in the area almost disappeared.
In view of the faster than expected Soviet advance, the 5th Army was ordered to advance the date of conquest of all its objectives. Under pressure, the commander of this army sent the 76th Tank Brigade to the vanguard, while the rest of the forces followed in column. Until the morning of August 12, this vanguard unit did not meet strong resistance; it then received reinforcements from the rear and was supported by artillery, which shelled the enemy positions. After opening a gap of only four kilometers in the Japanese line, the Soviets continued to advance, in the direction of Mudanjiang. Realizing the enemy plans, the Japanese withdrew to the city, where they improvised a defensive perimeter.
On the night of August 13, units of the 5th Army reached the first fortifications of Mudanjiang. The next day, units of the 1st Red Flag Army approached from the north. The city was key, as it was the communications center of eastern Manchuria and the headquarters of the Japanese 1st Area Army.
The battle of Mudanjiang lasted almost two days, and the 1st Red Banner Army carried out almost the entire assault, as the 5th Army was limited to assisting in minor operations. During the battle, several Japanese infantry divisions were almost annihilated. At the conclusion of the battle, the 5th Army headed southwest, while the 1st Red Banner Army headed northwest to Harbin. On August 18, the Japanese capitulation was announced, and all Soviet units temporarily halted their operations and prepared to receive the capitulation of the Japanese units. On August 20, at Harbin, units of the 1st Far Eastern Front met units of the 2nd Far Eastern Front.
Meanwhile, in the south, the 25th Army of the 1st Far Eastern Front met no serious resistance in its advance to Tungning, from where it would cut off the Japanese retreat to Korea. Because the Japanese expected the enemy advance through that section, the 25th Army set out almost twenty-four hours after the rest of the armies, in an attempt to surprise the enemy. The dark night and heavy rain relaxed the Japanese guards, and on August 10, units of the 25th Army entered Tungning.
At this point, Marshal Meretskov considered that, although all his armies had won the border battles, the front of the 25th Army was the most favorable for a definite breakthrough. Therefore, he ordered three army corps, one of them armored, to attack in that sector. The tanks had to advance slowly, along the only local road, while engineer corps preceded them clearing the road of landmines. Although the bottleneck that formed left the Soviets in a vulnerable situation, the Japanese did not take advantage of this temporary advantage to stop the new enemy onslaught. By August 16, the northern Korean cities of Unggi, Najin, and Ch”ŏngjin had fallen to the Soviets, and operations in Korea ended.
On August 19, the Japanese capitulation was broadcast to all units in Manchuria, which began to surrender individually from that day on. On August 20, Soviet soldiers landed at airfields in Harbin and Jilin to receive the surrender of their garrisons. The 25th Army then continued its advance through Korea and, at the end of August, reached the 38th parallel, which was the border agreed upon by the Americans and the Soviets, the place where they would halt the march of their armies. The last Japanese main positions were neutralized on August 25, although some Japanese units, which had been cut off or had disobeyed the capitulation order, continued fighting for a few more days.
The 1st Far Eastern Front offensive proved effective, and distracted many enemy units from the western sector of the Transbaikal front. The Japanese, lacking tanks and anti-tank fire, were unable to stop the Soviet armored units. Japanese officers had relied on the difficult terrain, which the infantrymen would exploit to destroy the tanks in near-suicidal missions, but they did not count on the maneuverability of the Soviets, which enabled them to isolate and overcome the Japanese infantry”s strong points. Indeed, the instances of Japanese heroism and fanaticism in eastern Manchuria were numerous, but unproductive in the face of a more mobile enemy.
Although the actions of the 2nd Far Eastern Front were of a secondary nature, they involved a series of complex maneuvers and covering hundreds of kilometers in a limited time. The 2nd Red Banner Army and the 15th Army would cross the Amur River aided by the Amur flotilla, which would enable them to transport troops. A major sharpshooter corps, the LVI, would invade the south of Sakhalin Island. The two Soviet armies stationed in Manchuria would act separately, as large swamps would separate them as well as the foothills of the Khingan Mountains.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 9, vanguard and reconnaissance detachments of the 15th Army crossed the Amur and seized the main islands in the Amur, without artillery support. By dawn beachheads had been established on the south bank of the river, which were consolidated and extended during the day. Heavy rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire and complicated the Soviet offensive. During the next two days, the main Soviet units crossed the Amur slowly, while at the same time the last remnants of enemy defenses south of the river were being eliminated.
The result was the complete triumph of the Red Army over the Japanese military forces, thus consolidating the recovery of Soviet sovereignty over Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands and the end of Japanese claims to the Soviet city of Vladivostok. The invasion of Manchuria contributed to the surrender of Japan and the definitive end of World War II. In addition, the Soviet occupation of Manchuria, along with the northern portions of the Korean peninsula allowed these regions to be transferred by the Soviet Union to the control of the local communist regime. The control of these regions by Communist governments backed by Soviet authorities would aid the rise of Communist China and shape the political conflict of the Korean War.
Several thousand Japanese who were sent as colonists to Manchukuo and Inner Mongolia were left behind in China. Most of the Japanese left behind in China were women, and these Japanese women mostly married Chinese men and became known as “stranded war wives” (zanryu fujin). Because they had children fathered by Chinese men, the Japanese women were not allowed to bring their Chinese families with them to Japan, so most of them stayed behind. Japanese law only allowed children of Japanese parents to become Japanese citizens.