Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
At the Tehran Conference in Nov 1943 and at the Yalta Conference in Feb 1945, Joseph Stalin had agreed declare war on Japan three months after Germany would be defeated. On 5 Apr 1945, the Soviet Union informed Japan that the Soviet Union would not renew the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941, which ensured non-aggression between the two nations through 13 Apr 1946. At 2300 hours Transbaikal time on 8 Aug 1945, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov informed Japanese ambassador Sato that the Soviet Union was revoking the neutrality pact with a declaration of war effective on 9 Aug; at this point, the neutrality pact was still six months from its natural expiration.
At one minute past midnight on 9 Aug 1945, or 61 minutes after the declaration of war, Soviet troops in three fronts poured into Japanese-occupied northeastern China, a region known as Manchuria that had been governed by the puppet regime of Manchukuo since 1932. The Soviet troops were of the Far Eastern Command under the overall command of Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky, who envisioned a giant pincer movement. The Transbaikal Front under Marshal R. Y. Malinovsky was to attack from the west across the Inner Mongolian desert and over the Greater Khingan mountain range, with Mukden as the primary target; the attached 36th Army was to break off after the initial invasion and head toward Harbin and Qiqihar to meet the 2nd Far East Front. The 2nd Far East Front under General M. A. Purkayev attacked in the center largely in a support role only, with the primary objectives of securing Harbin and Qiqihar, upon the successful completion of which, the front was to move toward Port Arthur after the 1st Far East Front completed its primary objectives. Finally, from the east over the Lesser Khingan mountain range, the 1st Far East Front under Marshal K. A. Meretskov was to capture the cities in eastern Manchuria, including Changchun; its secondary objective was to cut off Japanese escape routes into Korea, and its tertiary objective was to invade and occupy northern Korea. In total, 1,577,725 men in 89 divisions with the support of 3,704 tanks, 1,852 self-propelled guns, 27,086 artillery pieces, and 3,721 aircraft were utilized in the invasion.
On the Japanese side, General Otsuzo Yamada's Kwangtung Army fielded only 600,000 men organized in 25 divisions (two of which were tank divisions) and six independent mixed brigades; they were further supported by the 40,000-strong Manchukuo Defense Force in 8 divisions and the 10,000-strong Mengjiang militia in Inner Mongolia. In terms of machines, the Japanese had 1,215 armored vehicles (most of which were light tanks and armored cars), 6,700 artillery pieces, and 1,800 aircraft. In terms of training, the Kwangtung Army at this time was more so a counter-insurgency force rather than a typical military force, thus it was poorly prepared to defend against such an invasion. Additionally, Japanese intelligence had failed to realize the scale of the Soviet movement toward the east, perhaps not expecting the Soviet Union to tear up the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact.
The attack from the west was a complete surprise to the Japanese, who did not expect the Soviet troops to cross the Greater Khingan mountain range, said to be impassable. In addition to the element of surprise, the greater mobility enjoyed by the Soviet forces, plus the usage of airborne units at key airfields, caused the Japanese lines to completely crumble. Fighting continued despite the Japanese foreign ministry had expressed Emperor Showa's wish to end the war on 10 Aug 1945; on the Soviet side, the commanders received orders to continue the campaign, while some of the Japanese commanders were confused whether Tokyo was heading toward a ceasefire and others ignored the political developments and were determined to fight until the last man. On 14 Aug, Soviet troops reached the Yalu River vicinity but stiff Japanese resistance prevented them from reaching the river itself in great numbers. On 18 Aug, several amphibious landings were made in northern Korea, Sakhalin, and in the Kurile Islands, with the latter politically driven for the goal of post-war occupation.
Although geographically distant from the Manchurian region of northeastern China, the Soviet Kurile Islands Landing operation was considered a branch of the greater Manchurian Strategic Offensive operation. The Soviet 87th Rifle Corps and elements from other units landed on various islands, largely overrunning defenses manned by the Japanese 91st Infantry Division (at islands of Shiashkotan, Paramushiro, Shumshu, and Onekotan), 42nd Division (at Shimushiro), and the 89th Infantry Division (at Iturup and Kunashiri). Japanese troops surrendered on 23 Aug 1945, but pockets of resistance continued until the very end of the Pacific War.
Back in northeastern China, by 20 Aug, the cities of Mukden, Changchun, and Qiqihar were all declared secure. On 2 Sep, Japan formally surrendered. On 8 Sep, American troops landed at the port city of Inchon to prevent the Soviet Union from occupying all of Korea.
At the end of the campaign, the Soviet Union suffered 12,031 killed and 24,425 wounded. Japanese forces suffered somewhere between 21,000 and 60,000 killed. A very large number of Japanese were taken prisoner by the Soviets.
The Japanese northern-most home island of Hokkaido was in the invasion plans, but Japan surrendered before Soviet forces were ready to mount such an invasion. During the Allied occupation of Japan, the Soviet Union repeatedly demanded Hokkaido be occupied by Soviet forces without answering to the Supreme Commander of Allied Personnel, but General Douglas MacArthur sternly opposed the idea, and threatened the Soviet representative General Kuzma Derevyanko with military action should Soviet forces set foot on the island. Derevyanko, knowing well that MacArthur was not bluffing, advised Moscow to halt any plans for Hokkaido.
Though most westerners believe the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the events that drove Japan to surrender, the atomic bombs were actually only part of the equation. Many historians such as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and Dan van der Vat argued that the Soviet declaration of war was as important, if not more so, in the Japanese decision to capitulate. During the last months of the war, it had been evident that the Japanese, not knowing the secret agreement for the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan, were seeking Soviet assistance as a neutral power to negotiate surrender terms with the western Allies. With the seemingly neutral Soviet Union suddenly changing face and tearing up the non-aggression pact, Japan suddenly lost its last hope, which affected the Japanese psyche tremendously.
In terms of future consequences, the Russian occupation of Manchuria allowed Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist forces to recuperate and rebuild, eventually winning the Chinese civil war.
In 1983, United States Army historian Lieutenant Colonel David Glantz coined the phrase Operation August Storm to describe this Soviet operation against Japan, and this name had since been a common name to describe this campaign in addition to the Soviet name Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences
Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation Interactive Map
Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation Timeline
|28 Jun 1945||Joseph Stalin ordered the planning for war with Japan, adding that "[a]ll preparations were to be carried out in the greatest secrecy" as the Soviet Union and Japan were still engaged in neutrality with each other per the 1941 pact.|
|11 Jul 1945||Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union Naotake Sato failed to convince Vyacheslav Molotov to engage their two nations in a formal peace treaty.|
|25 Jul 1945||Lavrentiy Beria informed Joseph Stalin that the railroad connecting Komsomolsk and the port city of Sovetskaya Gavan in Khabarovsk Krai, eastern Russia had completed.|
|8 Aug 1945||At 2300 hours, the Soviet Union tore up the non-aggression treaty with Japan and declared war; the invasion would begin 61 minutes later at the start of the following day.|
|9 Aug 1945||At one minute after midnight, Soviet troops crossed the border into northeastern China, which was administered by the Japanese-sponsored puppet state of Manchukuo.|
|12 Aug 1945||Soviet forces in the Manchuria region of northeastern China had advanced 200 miles in four days. Meanwhile, Soviet Pacific Fleet attacked northern Korea, seizing the Japanese naval base at Rashin and the port of Yuki.|
|17 Aug 1945||Joseph Stalin ordered Aleksandr Vasilevsky to continue the fighting with Japan despite of the Japanese intention to surrender.|
|18 Aug 1945||In the Manchuria region of northeastern China, nearly 4,000 Japanese troops surrendered at Hailar, effectively ending organised resistance. Far to the northeast, Soviet troops landed on Paramushiro, Kurile Islands, Japan.|
|19 Aug 1945||Soviet SMERSH operatives convinced General Otozo Yamada to surrender|
|20 Aug 1945||Soviet forces declared the cities of Mukden, Changchun, and Qiqihar in northeastern China secure.|
|22 Aug 1945||Japanese forces in the Manchuria region of northeastern China surrendered. In the two-week campaign, the Japanese had lost 80,000 killed and wounded and 54,000 taken prisoner, including 143 generals. The Soviets had lost 8,200 dead and 22,000 wounded.|
|23 Aug 1945||The Soviet Union announced that all Japanese resistance in the Manchuria region of northeastern China had ceased. Meanwhile, Soviet troops received the surrender of the Japanese garrison at Paramushiro, Kurile Islands.|
|25 Aug 1945||Soviet UKR SMERSH agents captured Cossack leader Lieutenant General D. F. Semenov at Dalian, Liaoning, China.|
|28 Aug 1945||Soviet troops landed at Rubetzu Bay on Iturup, Kurile Islands, Japan, as well as nearby islands of Kunashir, Shikotan, Sibotzu, Taraku-Shima, Uri-Shima, Akiuri, and Suiseto.|
|8 Sep 1945||American troops landed at Inchon, Korea to prevent the Soviet Union from breaking the previous agreement for Soviet troops to only occupy northern Korea.|
|21 Sep 1945||Aleksandr Vadis reported to Soviet SMERSH officer Isai Babich that, between 9 Aug and 18 Sep 1945, 2,249 were arrested in northeastern China (666 Japanese military intelligence officers and agents, 569 Japanese policemen, and 552 Soviet citizens).|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939