Term Paper

Hey everyone. I took a WWII history class in university last semester and had to write a term paper on a subject of my choice. I’m going to post it here and I’m interested to see what you think of it.

The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria:
A Mismatch of Strength and Tactics

History 3387: World War II
“Dr. Professor”

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in Europe on May 8th 1945, the attention of the Big Three powers, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, turned towards the Pacific Ocean and Japan, the last of the Axis powers. As per their agreement with the UK and the USA, concluded in 1943, the USSR would invade Japanese controlled Manchuria three months after the defeat of Nazi Germany, an invasion that was bound to succeed due to differences in size, tactical doctrine, and supply of arms.

The Soviet Union and Japan had been at war many times in the past. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 was a startling Russian loss and it announced the arrival of Japan on the world stage as a great power. The Soviet and Japanese border incidents regarding Manchuria and Mongolia lasted from 1932 to 1941. These attacks led to the Pact of Neutrality Between [the] Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan as well as the Declaration Regarding Mongolia, both signed on April 13, 1941. The Pact of Neutrality was similar to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in which neither party would go to war with each other, and the Declaration Regarding Mongolia was signed to protect the territorial boundaries of the Soviet-protected Mongolian People’s Republic and the Japanese-protected area of China known as Manchoukuo.1

The Soviet Union denounced the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact on the 5th of April 1945, one month before the end of the war in Europe. This denunciation was made at that time due to time constraints imposed on the Soviet government by the Pact of Neutrality. Article Three of The Pact of Neutrality stated that:

"The present Pact comes into force from the day of its ratification by both Contracting Parties [April 13, 1941] and remains valid for five years. In case neither of the Contracting Parties denounces the Pact one year before the expiration of the term, it will be considered automatically prolonged for the next five years."3

The deadline for denouncing the pact was on the 13th of April 1945, a date which didn’t give enough time for the Soviets and Western Allies to defeat Nazi Germany. The Soviet declaration of war on Japan was given to Japanese Ambassador Sato by Foreign Commissar Molotov on August 8, 1945 at 2300 hours. Sixty one minutes after the official declaration of war, Soviet forces invaded Manchuria.4

The Soviet army in 1941 in the Far East was comprised of 30 divisions, of which the Japanese estimated the Soviets moved 15 infantry divisions, along with 1700 tanks and 1500 aircraft west to fight the Nazis during 1941-1942. By the time transfers to the western front had ceased in the later part of 1942, the strength of Soviet forces facing Japanese forces in Manchuria was 19 infantry divisions, 10 infantry brigades, which adds up to about 750,000 men, as well as 1000 tanks and 1000 aircraft. With the end of Nazi Germany near, the Soviet high command started the transfer of 30 divisions, nine brigades, and other units to the Far East. Japanese commanders expected the Soviets to attack when their operational strength reached 60 divisions, and therefore discarded the idea that the Soviets would attack with fewer.4 On August 9, when the invasion began, the Soviets had amassed a force of 11 combined-arms armies, one tank army, and three air armies. These forces consisted of 80 divisions comprising two tank and six cavalry divisions, four tank and mechanised corps, 40 separate tank and mechanised brigades, and six infantry brigades. In terms of manpower, just under 1.6 million men were ready to invade, of which just over one million were in combat roles. The Soviets had also amassed an overwhelming superiority in materiel as well: 26,000 artillery pieces and mortars, 3700 tanks and 1850 self-propelled guns, and 4800 combat aircraft.6 In command of the invading Soviet forces was Marshal Alexander M. Vasilevsky, with Colonel General S. P. Ivanov as his Chief of the General Staff. Under Vasilevsky were Marshal Rodion Ya. Malinovsky, commander of the Transbaikal Front, Marshal Kyril A. Meretskov, commander of the First Far East Front, and General of the Army Maxim A. Purkayev, commander of the Second Far East Front and the ex-commander of the Far East Front during most of the war on the Western Front.7

Facing this vast army were the Japanese, who reached peak strength of 1.1 million men in January 1942. Japanese tactical guidelines maintained that their forces should not go below 70 percent of Soviet strength. In July of 1944 the Japanese were at their weakest in Manchuria: seven divisions. This weakness had been corrected by the 9th of August 1945, with the formation and transfer of 24 Japanese divisions and 11 brigades in Manchuria as well as seven divisions in Korea. When combined with Manchukuoan and Inner Mongolian satellite troops, Japanese forces totaled just over 1 million men, of which between 600,000 and 780,000 were from the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. Supporting these forces were 1200 armored vehicles, 1800 aircraft, and 6700 artillery pieces and mortars.8
This Japanese force appears to be quite impressive, however there is another tale to be told of these forces. The majority of the Kwantung Army’s trained soldiers and front line equipment had been dispersed among other units of Japan’s armies, and all that remained were newly created units and obsolete equipment. The best example of the lack of preparation and training of the units of the Kwantung Army is the fact that the most ‘veteran’ of all of its remaining units was formed in the spring of 1944. Thirteen of the Kwantung Army’s 24 divisions in 1945 were formed after June of that year. At least one third of the units that were charged with defending Manchuria from a Soviet invasion were mobilised 10 days before the actual invasion, and the majority of the supposedly 23,000 man strong divisions were actually at about half of that strength.9 The majority of these divisions were under or ill-equipped: the Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha tank weighed around 15 tons, compared to the 51 ton Soviet IS-2, no divisions were equipped with artillery heavier than 75mm, and all of the tactical fighter planes available were obsolete. The Japanese themselves were aware of the poor performance potential of this army, having rated its 24 divisions able to fight as if they were seven or eight, and the seven divisions in Korea were rated to fight as if they were two.10

The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria started on August 9th, 1945 at 0001 hours when the Transbaikal Front, stationed in Mongolia and containing around half of the total Soviet forces, invaded Manchuria from the west in a two-pronged attack. The northern attack drove towards Tsitsihar and Harbin to rendezvous with the Second Far East Front. The main force of the attack was the southern prong, led by the 6th Guards Tank Army, which attacked the cities of Mukden and Changchun, around 450 kilometres from its staging ground. The time allotted for this 450 km charge and for the capture of Mukden and Changchun was 10 days. On the 24th of August, only 15 days after the start of the operation, Port Arthur and Dalian were in the hands of Soviet forces. In those 15 days, Soviet forces had advanced 1100 kilometres and encountered no grave setbacks other than lack of fuel. The advances of the First and Second Far East Fronts encountered stiffer resistance, however they were able to capture their objectives with few casualties. The success of the three Soviet fronts led the Japanese north of the 38th parallel to surrender within a few days of the 25th of August, and forces below the 38th parallel surrendered to American forces on the 8th of September 1945.11

The Soviet high command may have arranged the bulk of its forces against Manchuria, but that wasn’t the only axis of advance. Sakhalin Island was also an area of Soviet buildup and attack. Needless to say, Soviet forces completely outnumbered their Japanese opponents. This superiority in numbers and quality of the men and materiel makes it surprising to learn that on the 14th of August the 179th Regiment of the 79th Division was surrounded by the Japanese. The Sakhalin Campaign ended on the 25th of August. Other than Sakhalin Island, Soviet forces attacked the northern Kurile Islands. The Kurile Islands are the only area of operations between Soviet and Japanese forces where there was a relative parity of forces: both nations had around 8600 men, the Soviets had more artillery guns, but the Japanese had more machine guns. What may be the most surprising fact of the Kurile Islands campaign is that Soviet forces were outnumbered in the number of tanks they had: the Japanese had 60 light tanks whereas the Soviets had none! The Soviets however had over 200 anti-tank guns opposed to none for the Japanese. The final surrender of Kurile Island forces was completed on the 5th of September.12

     On the 23rd of August 1945, Joseph Stalin announced the conclusion of the Manchurian Campaign and on the 2nd of September Japan formally surrendered to all its enemies. The Soviet Manchurian campaign cannot be measured by the amount of materiel prepared for it and the amount of casualties dealt by each side. Of the 3.2 million shells and 410 million small-arms cartridges stockpiled for the campaign about 360,000 shells and just over one million bullets were fired. The Soviet estimated the total number of Japanese casualties to be around 83,700 killed and just below 600,000 taken prisoner. Those 600,000 prisoners were taken to the Soviet Union to work as forced labor, however around 510,000 were repatriated between 1948 and 1950. Total losses for the Soviet Army are estimated to be around 8000 killed and 22,000 wounded.13 

By mid-1945 the Japanese could not support their wartime economy. Imports of iron ore, coal, oil, and bauxite constituted the main supply of the Japanese war economy during the war. With the capture of the Dutch East Indies, Malaysia, the Philippines, and French Indochina in the first years of the war, supplies of these vital raw materials were supposed to be assured, but shipping and processing were not up to the task of supplying the Japanese economy with the amounts needed. These southern areas were important to the Japanese in the first year and a half of their capture due to losses in shipping. By 1944 deficiencies in steel production were so acute that heavy artillery and light tank production were being cut off, ammunition was no longer available for training purposes, and production of medium tanks and armored cars were drastically reduced.14 Aircraft production in 1945 was almost halted due to shortages of aluminum, and oil stocks were just as impressive as aluminum stocks: practically empty.15

    Even if the Japanese army in Manchuria had been comprised of fully trained, full strength units with no supply problems, the Soviet invading armies would have successfully invaded. Soviet tactical doctrine placed a heavier emphasis on armored vehicles than Japanese tactical doctrine, with good reason: the German armies that invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 were based around the tank, and to counter this effective weapon the Soviets developed substantial tank forces of their own. The Japanese were never confronted with significant tank forces during their wars with the Chinese, Dutch, English, or French, and as a result never developed any armored vehicles beyond light and medium tanks, nor any anti-tank weapons, such as the Panzerfaust. This clear lack of anti-tank weapons and any form of heavy tank would have been the downfall of the Japanese armies in Manchuria when faced with Soviet tank and combined arms armies.

The Soviet invasion of Manchuria was one of history’s lesser known but highly successful invasions. The quantities of men and materiel transferred from western Russia to eastern Russia for the invasion, as well as the logistics behind the transfer and the infrastructure built, make it one of the most impressive military maneuvers in modern history. The invasion took place when the Japanese army was at its weakest in terms of men and materiel, however full strength units supplied with the best Japanese weapons would not have been able to withstand the attack due to improper tactical doctrines. Tanks, weapons that played a large role in the Western theater of war against Nazi Germany, were not major weapons in the Eastern theater. The invasion of Manchuria had more important consequences than the defeat of Japan: The Soviet invasion of Manchuria helped the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong establish a political base to use against the Chinese Nationalists, with repercussions that are still being felt today.

  1. “Soviet-Japanese Neutrality and Denunciation.” http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1941/410413a.html#4.
  2. “Soviet-Japanese Neutrality and Denunciation.”
  3. “Soviet-Japanese Neutrality and Denunciation.”
  4. Chen, C P. “Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.” World War II Database. http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=167.
  5. Garthoff, Raymond L. “The Soviet Manchurian Campaign, August 1945.” Military Affairs 33, no. 2 (October 1969): 312. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1983926.
  6. Garthoff, 313.
  7. Garthoff, 314.
  8. Garthoff, 313.
  9. Garthoff, 313.
  10. Garthoff, 314.
  11. Garthoff, 316-324.
  12. Garthoff, 326-29.
  13. Garthoff, 331-332.
  14. Cohen, Jerome B. “The Japanese War Economy: 1940-1945.” Far Eastern Survey 15, no. 24 (December 4, 1946): 366. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3021956.
  15. Cohen, 368-370.

Chen, C P. “Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.” World War II Database. http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=167.
Cohen, Jerome B. “The Japanese War Economy: 1940-1945.” Far Eastern Survey 15, no. 24 (December 4, 1946): 361-70. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3021956.
Garthoff, Raymond L. “The Soviet Manchurian Campaign, August 1945.” Military Affairs 33, no. 2 (October 1969): 312-36. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1983926.
Kiyan, Alexander. “The offensive in the Far East.” RKKA.ru. http://rkka.ru/maps/tv25.gif.
“Soviet-Japanese Neutrality and Denunciation.” http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1941/410413a.html#4.

Sorry about the two posts, it was too long to put on one page…

Its a bit late for this paper, but what would you recommend to improve my writing?

No mention of Korea? Ramifications of which are still current…

No mention of Hitler’s fateful decision to declare war on U.S.A.?

Which allowed the Soviet option by defeating Germany 1st…

& the Japanese failure to reciprocate by moving into Siberia in `42?

I was limited to 7 pages, otherwise I could have written much more.

Ok, then… but was the intent to essay a narrow-focus military campaign, or was there scope for geo-political matters?

You might have had some fun exploring one of Winnie’s piss-brained blunders, such as the Dodecanese shocker in `43…

The intent was to attempt to describe the invasion and the forces used to conduct it, as well as a limited discussion on why it was so successful. Some of it is edited to make it more university-paper-ish, so it doesn’t cover everything that is mentioned in great detail (which was reflected in my grade XD ).

I probably would have picked something more fitting to my username, but this was a topic I knew little about and was interested in.


A point here. I think you’ll find that tanks were just as useful in every theatre.
. esp’ when the enemy did not have such an effective means of countering them…

The Japanese certainly used theirs effectively in Malaya…
While tanks deemed obsolescent in the west, such as M3s & Matildas were also quite successful in Burma & New Guinea…
As were Shermans for the Marines & US Army in the Phillipines…

T-34/85s were over-kill against the Kwantung forces sure, but nothing kills like over-kill, right…


Churchill, I think it is a very good essay on the topic it deals with (or with which it deals, for the pedants).

Clear, concise and to the point. Covers a lot of ground in a small space. Puts the military action in the geo-political context. Highly informative. Not a word wasted.

Good points about Japan’s failure to develop tank doctrine and the reasons for it vis a vis the Soviets, which is obvious, but an obvious point which hadn’t struck me until I read your paper.

The only criticism I’d offer, and it’s a mild one, is that you don’t mention that from the tactical aspect the Japanese were caught with their pants down in the early phase as they were engaged in major troop movements to new positions. Alas, I can’t recall the details, but it put them at a somewhat greater disadvantage than they would have been if they’d completed those movements before being attacked.

On the statistics:

  1. Did the Soviets fire only one million small arms rounds? Seems rather low.

  2. I’m very rusty on detail again, but IIRC Japanese divisons numbered above 100 had about half the strength of those earlier divisions numbered below 100, so that the later divisions in Manchuria facing the Soviets were generally about half true divisional strength as well as being inexperienced, so they were at a double disadvantage. Did you account for this in your stats on Japanese divisional strengths or did you have actual numbers of troops present?

Anyway, I still think it is a very good paper and I’d give you a very good mark on it if I was your examiner.

You’re right, I forgot to mention that. Oops XD

Here’s what Garthoff says about rounds and shells: “from 1 December 1944 to 1 April 1945, more than 3.2 million shells and 410 mil- lion small-arms cartridges were transferred from European Russia to the Far East. And we know that the total ammunition expend- ed during the campaign, on all fronts, was only 361,079 shells and 1,023,697 bullets.”

I wasn’t aware that that was the case with sub- and above-100 number divisions, weird kind of thing to do though.

I wish my professor had thought the same way, I received a ‘C’ on it.

Unlike other weird things like thinking that ‘spirit’ could overcome its enemies’ vastly superior industrial, military, naval and air capacity?

And that the Western powers would allow Japan to hold what it grabbed if Japan could hold it long enough?

The foregoing being pretty much Japan’s ill-considered strategy for its war from Pearl Harbor onwards.

I don’t know what he / she was expecting, so maybe you deserved a C. But if it makes you feel any better, you can tell him / her that I think he / she is a dopey ***** who wouldn’t know if a train was up him / her until the passengers got out.

That should get you an E on your next assignment. :slight_smile:



Hah, thanks guys.

& Geo-policy-wise, Czar-Comrade Stalin was keen to comprehensively redeem the Russian military reputation as
THE Eurasian power after their humiliation of 40 years earlier by the arms of Nippon…

No kidding, revenge was a crushing defeat that was crushing.

Probably a fair call to remark that ol’ uncle Joe was giving a bit of a…

“Look what we can do… too”…

… as a response to Dresden, Tokyo & the Nuke holocausts…

Sounds like something he would do.

Good paper. The only thing missing seems to be the importance of the engagements between the Soviets and the Japanese along the Manchukuo border along the Khalkin Gol River. These were not small engagements and they took place in July-August 1939. The importance, to me, is that even back then, the Soviets inflicted stinging defeats on the Japanese with use of far superior soviet armor against Japanese tank forces that were inferior qualitatively and tactically. Also, the Soviet air offensive showed the weakness of Japanese air tactics as well. Charitably put, the Japanese did not achieve a single one of their military goals and were crushed in the process. The Soviet General in charge of Khalkin Gol was Georgi Zhukov.

My point is that the Japanese had plenty of exposure to Soviet armor tactics 5-1/2 years before they returned and in the meantime, the Kwantung Army had learned very little useful information to prepare themselves for the Russian’s return. Japanese tanks had 5 years to improve and match the soviet ones, but nothing of the sort happened. I’m not aware of the existence of a single heavy tank type in the Japanese arsenal, but one may have existed. Same for the use of massed artillery which Zhukov had used to devastating effect against the Japanese.

If the Japanese later said they were surprised at the power of the soviet onslaught in 1945, they were simply lying to cover their derrieres.

The Kwantung Army was hollowed out between 1939 and 1945, to cover troop losses elsewhere - principally China and Burma. That’s one of the reason so many surrendered - the best and most fanatical had already been killed elsewhere.

The Japanese Imperial Army was only just beginning to develop tanks roughly equivalent to the Sherman prior to the coming Downfall invasion. The did have some decent designs, but not much of an ability to produce them nor fuel them…