The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria Part III —- The Main Assault
In case you missed: Part I, Part II
On the 9th of August, 1945 at 1:00AM Soviet forces began their attack against to Japanese Kwantung Army. Rather than launching a massive brutal assault, the Soviets began their campaign using stealth and the element of surprise. The attack began when groups of special assault teams (commandos) infiltrated enemy lines, capturing key objectives such as command posts, supply depots, pillboxes, and transportation routes. The Japanese were taken by surprise to the point that Japanese soldiers were captured by Soviet forces while sleeping in their barracks.
The stealthy assault by the Soviet commandos wrought chaos and confusion among the Japanese lines. Moreover the Soviets gained key objectives that would make the main assault much easier. By dawn of August 9th, the main Soviet assault began. The Japanese tactic was to man a series of heavy fortifications to hold off the assault. While this strategy worked well against the Americans on the confines tropical islands that provide excellent defensive terrain and hindered maneuverability, it was a lousy strategy for the open country of Manchuria. The Soviets were well adapted to combat in open country after years of fighting the Germans on the Russian plains. Not to mention, Japanese fortifications and defenses were nowhere near the quality of Germans. Veteran Soviet artillery units pounded Japanese hard points from a distance. Soviet tanks bashed through Japanese fortifications and trenches as Soviet infantry with bombs, grenades, and flamethrowers dealt with machine gun nests and pillboxes. One common tactic was to have a Soviet tank approach a machine gun pillbox, drawing its fire. Soviet infantry armed with flamethrowers would then blast the pillbox with flames, cooking the defenders inside. The Soviets considered Japanese minefields crude and simplistic compared to that which they had dealt with when fighting the Germans. They caused little delay and few casualties.
Perhaps the Japanese’ biggest weakness was their lack of armored forces. The Soviets had over 5 times the number of tanks as the Kwantung Army. More importantly, Soviet tanks were bigger, better, and tougher. The two most common Soviet tanks used in the operation was the T-34 medium tank (top pic) and the American Sherman tank supplied to the Soviets via Lend Lease (bottom pic).
By Contrast Japanese tanks were small, lightly armed, poorly built, and few in number. The most common Japanese tank was the Type 97 tank. Sporting a short barreled 57mm gun, it was not powerful enough to pierce the armor of the Soviet T-34 or Sherman, nor could it match them in range. Often, Soviet vs. Japanese tank battles involved Soviet tanks destroying Japanese tanks from hundreds of yards away, well out of the range of Japanese guns. Those Japanese tanks that could get close enough often saw their shells merely bounce off of Soviet Armor. Worse yet, Japanese tanks were built with riveted armor. Often when a rivet sustained a hit, it would bounce and ricochet within the tank cabin, turning its crew into a mess of blood and gore.
The use of tanks, heavy artillery, and skillfull infantry tactics allowed the Soviets to smash through the Japanese lines. On the 1st Far Eastern Front the Soviets broke through and captured the city of Mudanjiang after only 4 days. The Transbaikal Front in the west faced more difficult fighting in the heavily fortified mountains. However using superior mobility the Soviets quickly surrounded the Japanese defenders and trapped them in a small pocket. After a few days of fighting, the Soviets opened up with a massive artillery bombardment using 2,230 guns and several hundred katyusha rocket launchers. Then 80 heavy bombers of the Soviet Air Force swept in and dropped 120 tons of bombs. After the massive bombardment, the surrounded Japanese did what no other Japanese army did in history; they surrendered.
In the meantime, Soviet operations grew to encompass all of Manchuria. The Soviet Air Force initiated a bombing campaign against key targets such as military bases, fortifications, supply bases, railroads, and factories. Soviet fighters kept up a constant patrol across Manchuria, hunting down aircraft from the Japanese air force and destroying targets of opportunity. Soviet paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines to harass the Japanese and capture supply posts, communications centers, command posts, and air fields. Soviet Marines captured and occupied key ports along the Manchurian and Korean coast, denying the Japanese vital supplies from Japan.
After the chaos and destruction wrought by the Soviet military over the course of a mere 5 day, the Kwantung commander, Gen. Otozo Yamada ordered all forces to pull back to the Japanese secondary line of defense in the Manchurian central plains. It was there that Yamada planned to make his final stand and fight to the death.