Appendices - Hirohito's War
O. Japanese – Soviet Conflict in Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria
Japanese Preparations for the Defense of Manchuria: With Japan engaged, as they thought, in peace discussions with the Soviet Union, the last thing that the leader in Tokyo expected was a soviet invasion of Manchuria. Foreign Minister Togo knew that the Soviets were aware that Japan was already seriously discussing acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration in the wake of Hiroshima. So when he was aroused from his sleep at 3.00 a.m. on 9 August and given the news, he was astonished.
On the ground Japanese commanders had not been so sanguine. in the preceding months there had been a noticeable increase in soviet activity in terms of patrols and military exercises—particularly on Manchuria’s eastern Front. The local reports were at odds with the upbeat assessments from high command about soviet intentions. as Japanese officers later reported, “during July and August, the division received information from subordinate and lateral units indicating the gravity of the situation with regard to the Ussr. This information was utterly inconsistent with the optimistic information received from high command.”12 Lieutenant-colonel Genichiro Arinuma and Major Kyoji Takasugi, staff officers at the Kwantung Army HQ, noted after the war, “during May 1945 the intelligence section of the Kwantung Army Headquarters, reporting on the soviet build-up along the border, estimated that war with the soviets during 1945 was unlikely.”13 As for the increasing volume of border incidents, the Kwantung Army HQ intelligence section put this down to simply an increase in soviet reconnaissance—an example of either idiocy or wishful thinking.
It was further noted that it was the rainy season and hardly a propitious time to launch an invasion. If an invasion was to come the approaching dry season in September was considered more likely. as colonel Hiroshi Matsumoto reported after the war, “during the summer, the high water and flood season occurs.”14 Whatever the expectations on the frontlines, the leadership of Japanese forces in Manchuria had been revising their defense operations since April 1945. at this date, Tokyo had recalled most of the elite units back to Japan in preparation for the defense of the motherland. The defense of Manchuria was not only depleted of experienced units but was divested of a high percentage of its equipment—including some 50 percent of its anti-tank guns.
Given these actions by Japan’s army commanders in Tokyo, after April there was a desperate scramble to recruit new troops to make up for the shortfalls. Some 6 out of 10 of the First Area Army’s divisions were forced to draw on Japanese residents in Manchuria whose economic importance had previously caused their recruitment to be deferred. as General Kita noted, “none of the First Area Army’s major tactical units had been in existence more than seven months, except the 112th Division and the 1st Mobile Division . . .”15 In addition, almost none of the commanders of Japan’s Manchurian defense forces had been in command of their units for more than a year. Kita concluded “in almost every respect the First Area Army was below standards.”16 Internally it was reported that “the recruits brought into the new units had had no prior military training, and the ability and morale of officers left much to be desired.”17 The combat effectiveness of its divisions, a seemingly impressive tally of 700,000 troops, was estimated at 35 percent or less.
What equipment was left to the border forces was in a parlous state. Rifles and artillery were the most antiquated models. Heavy and light machine guns and grenade dischargers were less than half the authorized number. There was even a shortage of bayonets and swords. Ordnance departments set about “forging them out of springs of scrapped motor cars.”18 Other improvised weapons included metal-tipped bamboo spears and explosive packs to be carried by suicide bombers to place underneath tanks—a crude replacement for the anti-tank guns. Rifle rounds per infantryman were limited to 100 and field artillery shells to 500. As well as munitions, fuel was also in short supply. The Kwantung Army’s only plentiful supplies, in sharp contrast to the Japanese armies in the Pacific in 1944, were food.
Furthermore, with the culling of Japan’s Manchurian workforce to man new divisions, there was an acute shortage of manual labor and many of the fortifications, planned in the new defense plan drawn up on 19 April, were only half completed. In addition, the failing railway network had only been able to transport some 70 percent of military stores from forward areas to safer positions further back. Most of the underground storage facilities, which were needed because of soviet air and artillery superiority, were left un-built because of shortages of materials and labor.
After April 1945 all pretense that the Manchurian Army had offensive capability was scrapped. a revised defense plan called for lightly manned border garrisons, whose role in event of attack would be to hold up a soviet invasion. The main bodies of troops would be pulled back some 50–100 miles from the border for a defense in depth. On the northeastern Front, where Japanese and soviet soldiers faced each other in close proximity across the Ussuri River, two fallback Japanese defensive lines were in the process of being constructed, one 50 miles from the border and the other around Mutanchiang some 100 miles distant. Defense would be in depth. as colonel Akiji Kawada, operations officer of the 5th Army Headquarters noted, the forward projection of the 5th Army was unsatisfactory “because it was too extensive a line to be defended by three divisions and, furthermore, from the viewpoint of terrain and positions was unsuitable for prolonged resistance.”19
In August 1945, as the Japanese commanders in Manchuria were bracing themselves for the possibility of a Soviet invasion, its capability to sustain a competent defensive action was severely constrained. as colonel Kawada complained, “The shortage of ammunition, explosives, and automotive fuel was particularly acute in the Fifth Army, and led to the belief that it was quite impossible for the army to fight an extended war of resistance.”20 At best, senior commanders believed that they would be able to hold out for little more than a month.