Appendices - Hirohito's War
O. Japanese – Soviet Conflict in Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria
The Battle of Sakhalin Island: Situated off the remote northeast Pacific coast of Russia, at its northern tip some 900 miles north of Vladivostok, Sakhalin is a large elongated island, 560 miles long and up to 174 miles wide, that also abuts due north from Hokkaido, from which it is separated by the 30-mile-wide La Perouse Straits. after 1905 it was occupied up to the 50th parallel by Japan—booty from the Russo- Japanese War. Heavily forested, often swampy, Sakhalin is also mountainous with a central spine, from which rivers take their short course to the sea.
Faced by these unpropitious terrains, the advance southwards, starting on 11 August, by elements of Marshal Vasilevsky’s 16th Army, including the 79th Rifles, 2nd Rifle Brigade, 5th Rifle Brigade and 214th Armored Brigade, made heavy weather. Some 19,000 Japanese troops of the 88th Infantry Division in addition to 10,000 reservists, outnumbered by 3 to 1, mounted a staunch defense. Russian superiority in tanks was greatly diminished by the nature of the terrain; as one Soviet officer reported, “when the tank subunits were assigned their missions, [the command] failed to take into account sufficiently the movement capabilities of various tank systems when being employed in forested, swampy, and road-less terrain.”30
In classic Japanese style, fortified defense areas were made up of entrenchments with machine gun pits and bunkers. Soviet progress was painstaking. It was an amphibious flanking, landing at the port of Toro on the west coast of Sakhalin on 16 August, which finally broke their resistance. A 140-man reconnaissance detachment quickly captured the barely defended port and 1,500 troops of the 365th Naval Infantry Battalion and 2nd Battalion of the 113th Rifle Brigade were brought ashore. Japanese forces along the west coast were cut off and the rapid march eastward threatened their line of retreat. Thereafter the Soviet advance southward moved rapidly. The conquest of Sakhalin was completed on 25 August when the capital city of Toyohara was taken.