battle of khalkhin gol


During the battle of Nomonhon (Khalkhin Gol) in 1939, Captain Fujita commanded a Type-94 Anti-Tank gun, and under his supervision, his regiment was able to beat back several Soviet tank offensives, but soon ran out of ammunition, and so when the Russian tanks attacked his position again, he unsheathed his katana, climbed onto a Russian BT-5, opened the copula, pulled out the tank’s commander, and savagely stabbed him to death. He was then severely wounded in his arm by the tank’s gunner who had popped out behind them.

He survived, recevied the Order of the Golden Kite for his bravery in combat, and spent the rest of the war as an instructor training fresh troops.


The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria, Part I — The Rising Sun and the Bear

In 1930 China was in turmoil as the country was divided among a number of warlords who controlled their own independent realms.  On the pretext of defending an important Japanese built railway in the region of Northeast China called Manchuria, the highly imperialistic Japanese government stationed the Kwantung Army to protect it.  The Kwantung Army was the elite force of the Japanese Army, and perhaps the most prestigious command of in the Japanese military.  

Although under the authority of Japanese High Command, the Kwantung Army had a mind of its own as it was staffed by officers who sought power, wealth, and glory.  In 1931 the Kwantung Army conducted a false flag operation where they bombed the railway they were guarding.  Blaming the bombing on a local warlord, they used the incident as a pretext to invade and conquer all of Manchuria.  The forces of the local warlord, although larger than the Kwantung Army, were no match for the organization and professionalism of the Japanese.  Within five months, the Kwantung Army had defeated the Chinese and conquered Manchuria.  They created a puppet stated called “Manchuko”, which was ruled by a puppet emperor from the former Chinese Manchu Dynasty.  Incredibly, the Kwantung Army did all of this without any orders from the Japanese government.

Throughout the 1930’s Japan continued to expand into Chinese territory.  By the late 1930’s Japan also sought to expand into the Soviet Union, hoping to gain possession of the rich oil and gas fields of Siberia.  In the summer of 1938, a series of clashes between Japanese and Soviet forces occurred near Lake Khazan near Vladivostok. Then in 1939, the Kwantung Army attempted a full scale invasion of the Soviet Union and her ally, Mongolia.  The two armies met at a river called Khalkin Gol on May 11th, 1939.

The Japanese invaded with a massive force composed of 75,000 men of the 6th Japanese Army, a unit of the Kwantung Army.  Throughout the summer of 1939, the Japanese assaulted Soviet-Mongolian lines, but had little success.  Then a large Soviet force led by future marshal Georgy Zhukov arrived with a heavily mechanized army.  While the Japanese prided themselves on their courageous infantry, throughout World War II they always lacked armored forces.  In addition Japanese tanks were of typically light armed and armored light tanks.  Japanese tanks also had the reputation as being the among the worst tanks produced during the war. By contrast, the Soviets had a reputation for producing some of the best tanks of the war.  The pathetic tanks of the Japanese Army were no match for the steel behemoths of the Soviet Red Army.

At the Battle of Khalkhin Gol the Japanese brought 135 tanks 250 aircraft. Georgy Zhukov brought 500 tanks, hundreds of vehicles, and over 800 aircraft. In late August, he conducted a massive counterattack lead by three tank brigades and 50,000 infantry.  The Red Army easily swept the Japanese air force from the skies, while simultaneously bombing Japanese defensive positions and supply lines.  Soviet tank units made mincemeat of the Japanese armored forces while smashing through the flanks of the Japanese.  Once the Japanese flanks were destroyed, Soviet infantry encircled and surrounded the Japanese.  Zhukov demanded the Japanese surrender, but the Japanese commander, Michitaro Kumatsubara, announced that he would fight to the death.  Over the next several days Soviet artillery and aircraft pounded the Japanese as the Red Army tightened its noose around the encircled army.  It seemed that within a matter of days the 6th Army would be wiped out.  Then in August, 1939 it was announced that Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, and since Japan was Germany’s ally, they were required to make peace with the Soviets.  In essence, the Japanese had been saved by the bell.

The Battle of Khalkhin Gol was the biggest ass whoopin’ dealt to the Japanese until the Battle of Midway in 1942.  Afterwards, the Japanese signed a separate non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, pretending that the whole thing had never happened.

As a result of the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, the Japanese chose not to intervene when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union overran and destroyed Germany.  However, a promise between Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt guaranteed that the Soviet Union and Imperial Japan would clash once again.

To be Continued… 


The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria, Part II: The Invasion Begins,

Due to their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Soviets during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, the Japanese chose to stay out of the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II.  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin likewise wanted nothing to do with Japan, signing a non-aggression pact with the Japanese as well.  However during the Tehran Conference of 1943, Stalin agreed with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan once Germany was defeated.

Many accused the Soviets of opportunism, since the invasion began on August 9th, 3 days after the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  However Soviet planning and organization of the operation began in late April, when it was clear that Germany was going to lose the war.  The logistics of organizing such an invasion was certainly not easy.  The invasion force itself consisted of almost 1.7 million troops, 26,000 artillery pieces, 5,556 tanks, and over 5,300 aircraft.  Indeed the operation was one of the largest offensives of World War II, yet all men and material had to be transported thousands of miles across the barren Siberian wilderness, which was no easy task and took time.  The men and units chosen for the operation were noted for distinguishing themselves while fighting the Germans.  They were also chosen for specialty skills.  For example many units who had fought in the Carpathian mountains of the Balkans were selected as the Carpathian mountains were very similar to the mountains of Northern Manchuria.  Tank units that had distinguished themselves at the Battle of Kursk were selected as the flat terrain of Kursk was similar to the flat terrain of Central Manchuria.  To head the operation, Stalin hand selected Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky, an experienced commander who saw combat at Moscow, Kharkov, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk, Odessa, Sevastopol, Belarus, and Konigsberg. Obviously Vasilevsky was the right man for the job.  Moreover, Stalin did something he never did with his commanders in the past; he gave Vasilevsky the authority to plan and conduct the operation with complete autonomy, an incredible precedent in the history of Stalinism.  

The plan of Vasilevsky’s operation was a double pincer movement, with one assault from the west (The Transbaikal Front) and one from the east (the 1st Far Eastern Front).  A third force would travel along the Manchurian coast with the goal of invading Japanese held Korea.  

Without interference from Stalin or the Communist Party in Moscow, Vasilevsky chose an unorthodox strategy to break through Japanese defenses on the first night of the offensive.  At the time the Kwantung Army was undermanned, with many of its crack soldiers reassigned to fight the Americans in the Pacific.  Regardless, the Kwantung Army was still a formidable fighting force, with 1.2 million men, 1,155 tanks, 5,360 artillery, and 1,800 aircraft. The Japanese had built a line of fortifications near the Manchurian border that was very heavily defended.  Standard Soviet war doctrine dictated that an assault begin with a heavy artillery and rocket bombardment, however Vasilevsky feared that such a bombardment would warn the Japanese of an attack. Many Japanese units were situated far behind the lines engaged in training exercises.   A bombardment would just attract more reinforcements before the advance could begin.

Instead of brute force, Vasilevsky chose stealth and guile to achieve his goals.  Selecting his most experienced and toughest troops, he formed small commando units who would be tasked with beginning the assault.  On the night of August 9th, 1945, the commandos attacked, using the night as cover for their assaults.  The Japanese were taken by surprise, so much so that Soviet commandos accomplished their objectives often with little resistance.  Advancing 20km into enemy territory, the commandos captured key objectives such as important trenches, pillboxes, machine guns nests, gun platforms, artillery batteries, airfields, communication centers, supply depots, and command posts.  Most humiliating of all, thousands of Japanese, who swore an oath to the emperor to fight to the death, were captured as the Soviets stormed their barracks while they slept.  The commando strikes created so much confusion that the Kwantung Army quickly devolved into chaotic mess.  The Japanese commander, Otozo Yamada, was taken unawares by the assault, and didn’t arrive to take command until 18 hours later.  The next morning, the main advance of the Soviets was to begin. So far, things were going well for Vasilevsky.

To be Continued