Almost 4 Million Fought In The Soviet Japanese War, a Battle Few Have Ever Heard Of.

by Daniel Russ on March 17, 2015


By April of 1945, the Russians were at Hitler’s doorstep in the bloody smoking streets of Berlin. Russian tank battalions were forcing back a desperate and hopeless yet fanatical army of Nazis hoping to come out of the Second World War with something to show for it. All over Europe, German units were surrendering their arms and marching hands behind their heads out of lands purloined by the Third Reich in the late 1930s. Japan, however was quite different. It was mostly comprised of a mesmerized populace that deucedly believed in the divine authority of the Emperor and the infallibility of the Japanese command. The soldiers on the ground saw themselves as the tip of the spear and would rather die a death of honor rather than live a failure to enact the vision of an ascendant Japan.

As the end game manifested itself, the Russians were finally in control of their fate. Still, they had been blindsided by Barbarrossa and Stalin was not going to repeat that blunder. On his east was a threat, one that was protected by a treaty that Russia signed guaranteeing it would not attack Japan. Well, the enemy of my friends is my enemy, the saying goes and it was not a big surprise that Russia would hit that other large Axis force on his borders.

Marshal Vasilevsky of the 3rd Byellorussian Front was satisfied at how things were unfolding on the Eastern Front. At an earlier convention, Stalin had informed him that he would lead an invasion of the Japan army garrisons in Manchuria. Vasilevsky was looking for other commanders to help prosecute the war against the Japanese. At this moment, Japanese General Yamada was preparing the battlefield in fortified bunkers all over Manchuria.

At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the Allied high command had to meet to go over a changing landscape. Russia was occupying eastern Europe and the Balkans. Clement Attlee was the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom replacing Winston Churchill. And Harry Truman was the new President of the United States. Also, the Axis armies were crumbling and the winners would have to take purview over the losers’ domains. At Potsdam, Stalin, Churchill and Truman divided most of the western world up on paper and issued an edict to Japan: surrender at once, and unconditionally, or Japan will be destroyed.

Hirohito demurred.

It was here that the US decided to drop the bomb.

Russia owed the west a favor. Stalin had asked for a new front from the beginning of the conflict, and had to wait until June 1944 before the Allies could pull it off. Sitting in Manchuria in Northeast China, were 1.2 million Japanese soldiers, there as a buffer between Imperial Japan and as a reserve force to oppose the Americans should we decide to invade the home islands. The Japanese garrisons there were often depleted to reinforce units decimated by the US Juggernaut.

The Japanese had already attacked Manchuria in the 1930s and poached large portions of it. They had to. Manchuria had fuel, steel, coal and other valuable resources. This empty pristine territory would be the battery that fed the expansion of the Imperial Japanese military. They had to keep it. More importantly, the troops there were one of the last cards the Japanese had to play.

Since the advance on the German Chancellory by the Red Guard in Germany, the Russians began building up forces west and north of Manchuria and the Japanese certainly noticed the tanks riding on trains headed towards the area. As the build up continued the Japanese began to rush troops into Manchuria to stop the Russians. Just weeks previously the Russians who brought the battle to Otozu Yamada and his Japanese troops thought that since Germany surrendered they would be headed home. No. They were headed into the last great battle of World War II. They were put on trains and sent on five day trips all the way across the Trans Siberian rail line into the Manchurian basin. These were blooded experienced troops; many units had already fought together and were going to fight again against Japanese troops who were loyal but green. And so the 53rd Guards and 6th Tank Army staged into northeast China.

The Russians were organized with large infantry formations supported by SU-152 156mm assault guns. They also had lend lease M4 Shermans and their own T-34s.  It was a great armamentarium given the tanks and assault guns would have to blast thousands of heavily reinforced bunkers housing fierce Japanese defenders.

August 6th, 1945, early over Hiroshima, a city of 350,000 people, the US dropped a uranium bomb. Upwards of 40,000 died instantly, and tens of thousands more died later from burns and radiation and infection.

August 8th and 9th, 1.5 million Russians smashed into the Japanese army stationed in the Manchurian theater of battle. They came in the middle of the night and in the pouring rain and utterly surprised the Japanese. Vasilevsky ordered his artillery silent before the invasion.

August 9th, the US dropped a plutonium bomb over Nagasaki.

Neither bomb did much to break the Japanese resistance. The truth of the matter is that from June 1944 until Hiroshima, the US had fire bombed 67 of the top 100 Japanese cities. So another city burned down in a fraction of the time was little new. Plus, news didn’t get out that well because Japanese was still governed as a centrally controlled police state. The fact of the matter is that many Japanese had not heard of Hiroshima or Nagasaki until long after the armistice was signed.

General Yamada had put screening forces in front of the Soviets and had them backed by nimble counter-attacking forces. Manchria was the size of Germany and France out together and the now 700,000 Japanese could not cover all of the area.

The sadness about the Soviet Japanese War in Manchuria is that the battle lasted for 3 weeks and 3 days, and didn’t have to go on so long. Hirohito had informed many that he intended to cease hostilities, but had not given the director order to his troops to surrender. These were soldiers fighting and dying in large numbers as the rest of the world was celebrating.

Russian General Malinovsky led the Trans-Baikal Army attacked from the west. Marshall Meretson led the Soviet Far Eastern force and together they enveloped the Japanese. The bunkers were a problem but the the Soviets had the firepower and the trained sappers and flame thrower units to clear the bunkers out. Progress was slow but sure The Japanese were fighting very hard and the Russians were trying to put this last conflagration out.

In early August Hirohito said he would surrender his forces but only if he could remain Emperor. The Allies said no. And the war continued.

The war continued in the Kuril Islands and in Sakhalin Island and thousands died unnecessarily. Even after Hirohito directed commanders to surrender many refused and fought to the bitter end. The Soviets were happy to oblige.

In late August, the Japanese were fully trapped in  large pockets and the Soviet air force began intense bombing campaigns. Large Soviet naval gun bombardments decimated the remaining holdouts on these islands. At the behest of Foreign Minister Suzuki, Hirohito accepted the Potsdam terms and Yamada surrendered.




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