Manchurian Strategic Offensive
In 1983, United States Army historian Lieutenant Colonel David Glantz coined the name Operation August Storm to describe this Soviet operation against Japan, and this American name had since been used in some western literature instead of the original Soviet name of Manchurian Strategic Offensive.
The rapid pace of the Pacific advance outran the American plans for the China-Burma-India Theater, and that theater declined in strategic importance in the war against Japan. Disillusioned by Chinas’ inability to play an active role in the final defeat of Japan, American military leaders sought to substitute the USSR. To save American lives in a Pacific Overlord, those leaders in general became eager to have the USSR enter the war against Japan and pin down Japanese forces on the Asiatic mainland.
Westerners seem to think that only geography, climate, and sheer numbers negated German military skill and competency on the eastern front, a view that relegates Soviet military accomplishments to oblivion. Moreover, Westerners concluded that little worthy of meaningful study occurred in the Asian theaters of war. These impressions reflect a distinct German bias in the analyses of operations on the eastern front and an anti-Asian front bias concerning World War II in general.
Soviet historians attribute the unprecedented success of the Manchurian Campaign to the surprise, strength, speed, depth of the offensive. This movement of 50 divisions and their equipment was done in nearly complete secrecy, making possible the key element of surprise. The Soviets obtained strategic surprise through diplomatic measures as well as military secrecy. Soviet Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov sought to convince the Japanese that the Soviet Union would not attack Japan until the spring of 1946, and Japanese intelligence informed Tokyo that the Soviet Union was militarily incapable of doing so before then.
Western scholars, on the other hand, have sometimes discounted the campaign significance because of the Kwantung Army’s inferiority in numbers, technology, air power, anti-tank weapons, and air defense. They have correctly pointed out that the Soviets attacked a Japanese Army already feeling the sting of imminent defeat. Had the Japanese leaders mobilized a greater portion of their avaiIable soldiers in Manchuria, better prepared the Armfs defenses in depth, and possessed more formidable air power, the Soviets would have paid a greater price for their victory but would have dominated the battlefield nonetheless.
On August 8, 1945, barely two days after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Moments after the public announcement was made, Soviet forces launched snnultaneous attacks against the Japanese in Manchuria, Korea, Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. By doing so, the Soviet Union belately fulfilled the secret terms of the Yalta agreement to enter the war against Japan within three months of Germany's surrender (which came on 09 May 1945). The Soviet Army's qualitative advantage in weapons and training and clear superiority in number of forces hardly invalidate the Manchurian Campaign as a remarkable example of decisive victory.
Soviet planning for the Manchurian campaign began in March 1945, when operations in the west were in their final phase. Shifting of men, materiel, and equipment to the Far East began in April 1945. In general, the Soviets transferred combat units and their equipment separately. Thus, at first they stockpiled equipment in the Far East and reequipped units already located in that region. Massive regrouping of forces to the east occurred from May through July of 1945, 'with units still arriving when the campaign opened in August.
At midnight, Tokyo time, on August 9, 1945, Soviet forces of the Far Eastern District attacked the largely unprepared Kwantung Army on three expanded fronts In a combined arms, joint operation that inchrded Soviet air, land, and naval forces as well as several Mongolian units, the Soviets attacked with nearly 80 divisions across a 3000-mile front. In the west, the 6th Guards Tank Army led the campaign’s main effort across the Gobi Desert, the Greater Khinghan Mountains, and onto the Central Manchtian Plain. The Japanese believed that only a small raiding force could use the Khingan Mountain approach. The Soviets exploited the Japanese commande's incorrect assessment by portraying the main effort with two second rate armies on the traditional caravan approach paralleling the Hailar railroad. Simultaneously, the First Far Eastern Front penetrated Manchuria’s eastern border and attacked west towards Kurin and Harbin. In the north, the Second Far Eastern Front ferried down the Amur and Sugari Rivers and blocked the redeployment and escape of Japanese forces. The Soviet planning staff anticipated the complete encirclement of the Kwantung Army within thirty days. Although the Kwantung Army did not formally surrender until August 19, the Soviets gained all of therr assigned objectives in only six days.
The Kwantung Army had been stripped of its best soldiers and equipment to defend the Home Islands. -Ahhough the Kwantung Army could have potentially mobilized more than a million ddiq never more thau 300,000 joined the fight. While many of the Soviet divisions were first class mits transferred from the western front, the Japanese defended Manchuria with a garrison army, an army of occupation since 1932. Many ofthe Kwantung Army’s best divisions had been withdrawn for defense of the homeland, fortifications had been stnpped, and ammunition reserves depleted.
But the tenacious Japanese soldier met Soviet expectations. He lived up to his reputation as a brave, self-sacrificing samurai who, though poorly employed, inflicted 32,000 casualties on the Soviets and won their grudging respect.
Had Stalin helped the Japanese find an acceptable surrender plan or had he onIy waited to review Japan’s reaction to the atomic bomb, his army would have inherited virtually the same territories by merely surrounding the provincial borders of Manchuria. Had Stalin adhered to his mid-August schedule and coordinated the invasion, as promised, with China, the futility of the Kwantung Army’s mission, if not surrender itself, would have aheady visited the pIains of Manchuria.
Soviet postwar military doctrine fully incorporated the doctrine expressed in the Field Service Regulations (USTAVs) of 1944, amended by the experiences of the campaigns of 1945 and in particular by the Vistula-Oder offensive and the Manchurian campaign. That doctrine emphasized reliance on the offense, an offense characterized by maneuver and judicious use of massed armor, artillery, and air power to effect success on the battlefield. The offensive model was that of 1944-45, although infantry forces were gradually motorized and mechanized and the last cavalry formations faded from the scene. While the Soviet force structure retained the essential flavor of the latter two years of war, the postwar restructuring incorporated the more significant changes of the final war years. Wartime tank and mechanized corps became tank and mechanized divisions. The brigades of those older structures became regiments in the new divisions. The wartime tank army was reorganized into a mechanized army, with 6th Guards Tank Army in the Manchurian campaign as a model. The combined-arms army and the rifle corps continued their existence, as did the rifle division although all three entities emerged with tables of organization and equipment (TO&Es) stronger in armor and artillery. Air armies consisting of air divisions and regiments provided air support for ground forces.
The offensive combat role of these forces remained that of World War II. Combined-arms armies of front first echelons created the penetration, and mechanized armies acted as front mobile groups to exploit success into the depths of the defense. At army level, rifle corps created the penetration, and mechanized divisions exploited success.11 Air armies developed further the wartime concept of the "aviation offensive," designed to support ground forces advancing through and beyond enemy defensive positions. The Soviet placed new emphasis on achieving air superiority and accorded Long-Range Aviation a greater role in aerial bombardment of military and industrial installations, command and control centers, and logistical facilities.
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