Appendices - Hirohito's War
O. Japanese – Soviet Conflict in Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria
The Battle of Mutanchiang: With their border forces overwhelmed, General Shiina determined that the Japanese Army’s main forces would make their stand at the mountains that curved in a semi-circle some 40 miles in front of the city of Mutanchiang. situated on the Muleng River and on the main railroad to Harbin in central Manchuria, Mutanchiang was the city through which all Japanese eastern border forces, and indeed the enemy, would have to pass.
The first phase of the battle took place on the ridges overlooking Mutanchiang on 12–14 August. it was some of the bitterest fighting of the war. A Soviet officer described the scene:
“On the heights; among the tangle of trenches, pillboxes, dugouts, and artillery positions; over the precipices; and before the inaccessible grades bellowed tank motors; Japanese guns often struck, and the grass huts and grass blazed. The battle lasted to and fro more than an hour, perhaps the bloodiest since the beginning of the combat. Finally, the enemy faltered, hundreds of retreating soldiers littered the slopes of the hills and valley of marshy streams. The tanks [257th Tank Brigade] pursued the fugitives. The victory was achieved at a heavy price.”27
Having broken through the heights, the Soviet 257th Tank Brigade pursued the enemy to the Mutan River in front of Mutanchiang. Japanese troops had dug in around the main bridge, which was close to Hualin station. Just as the Soviet tanks reached the bridge it was blown up, bringing their column to a halt. At this moment
“From camouflaged foxholes rose up [Japanese] soldiers in greenish tunics, stooping under the heavy loads of mines and explosives, running toward the tanks. Soviet soldiers struck them with point blank fire from automatic weapons, and flung hand grenades. Bursts of tank machine guns mowed down the Smertniks [Kamikaze].”28
Often when Japanese soldiers managed to reach the Soviet tanks their charges failed to penetrate the armor, leaving them little damaged. Only a squad of Japanese firemen from a transport unit, each armed with 15 kilograms of explosive, managed to knock out numbers of Soviet tanks as they approached the headquarters of the Japanese 126th Division in Mutanchiang. Emperor Hirohito had already surrendered that day, 15 August, but the fighting continued. at 10.00 a.m. on 16 August Major-General Perekrestov’s 65th Rifle Corps completed the destruction of Japanese forces east and southeast of Yehho.
Elsewhere fighting drew to a close but, in some instances, long after Japan’s surrender. At Hutou, the fortresses’ bunker constructions, risibly called the ‘Japanese Maginot Line’ by some Japanese officers, were reduced one by one. The war was over but that was probably not known to the Japanese troops hiding in their underground tombs. Gamii Zhefu, one of the few survivors, recalled, “in the tunnels beneath the fort, it was incredibly hot. We were desperate for water.”29 Two weeks later the conditions were indescribable with the starved survivors surrounded by putrid, decaying bodies. Pockets of underground Japanese resistance held out until 26 August when the Soviets brought up poison gas to finish off the holdouts.
For the Japanese civilian survivors worse was to come. rape and pillage, hitherto a prerequisite of the all-conquering Japanese armies, was now visited on Japanese and Manchurian civilians alike by elements of the Red Army. Herded into internment camps and provided with minimal amounts of shelter, food or medicines, disease spread rapidly among the civilian population—killing thousands.