Document created: 1 September 04
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2004

The Soviet Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, 1945: "August Storm" by David M. Glantz. Frank Cass Publishers (http://www.frankcass.com), 5824 NE Hassalo Street, Portland, Oregon 97213-3644, 2003, 451 pages, $64.95 (hardcover).

Soviet Operational and Tactical Combat in Manchuria, 1945: "August Storm" by David M. Glantz. Frank Cass Publishers (http://www.frankcass.com), 5824 NE Hassalo Street, Portland, Oregon 97213-3644, 2003, 368 pages, $64.95 (hardcover).

On 9 August 1945, the Soviet army launched a classic double envelopment of Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Col David M. Glantz, US Army, retired, one of the most knowledgeable American historians of Soviet operations during World War II, has again produced a masterpiece. In the more than 800 pages of this two-volume set—the most comprehensive English account of a series of lighting attacks carried out on three axes over a 3,000-mile front—he explains all ground action in the campaign. The operational and tactical volume explores 10 actions in close-up detail. Glantz’s description of this campaign as a graduation exercise for the bloodied, battle-hardened Red Army may be the most appropriate label for this relatively unknown operation. Coming on the heels of the atomic blast at Nagasaki, these military operations in mainland Asia have previously attracted little attention from Western military historians.

Records and documentation of the campaign have always been lacking. Japanese records captured by the Red Army in 1945 remain unavailable, and the Russians have only recently opened their archives. Japanese interrogations after 1945 provide a partial picture of operations. Japan occupied Manchuria in 1931; in 1938 and again in 1939, the Japanese Kwangtung army twice tangled with the Soviet army and lost. Both battles showed the Japanese that the Red Army was a formidable foe and may have led the Imperial Japanese Army to push for conquest in Southeast Asia rather than trying to overcome the Soviet Bear in Siberia. The Soviets and Japanese signed a neutrality pact in 1941, which remained in force throughout World War II. Wary of Japanese motives, Stalin maintained about 40 divisions on the Manchurian frontier throughout the war (1941–45), waiting for an opportunity to attack the Japanese.

By 1945 Stalin wished to reestablish Soviet influence in the Pacific region and rail and base rights in Manchuria, as well as consolidate his position in Mongolia. He also wanted to seize the Sakhalin and Kurile Islands from Japan. In April 1945, Stalin abrogated the neutrality pact and commenced a massive redeployment effort that doubled the number of Soviet forces in the Far East to 80 divisions. During the months of May to July 1945, more than 40 divisions were transferred from East Prussia and Czechoslovakia in the heart of Western Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Mongolian and Manchurian border areas. In order to maintain security of this operation that saw 22–30 trains a day on the railroad link, most of them moved under cover of darkness. The Soviets maintained deception and surprise by relying heavily on night movement, utilizing assembly areas far removed from the border, and following simple but strict measures such as instructing senior Soviet officers not to wear rank insignia. The 6th Guards Tank Army left all tanks, self--propelled artillery, and vehicles behind in Czechoslovakia, picking up new equipment manufactured by the Soviet Ural factories.

Imperial Japanese Headquarters had withdrawn most formations, including all armor and elite infantry, from the Kwangtung army—at one time numbering over 1 million men—reducing it to a mere shadow of its former self. Thus, the Japanese in Manchuria were forced to alter their defense plans vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The new 1945 plan called for delaying action along the border and withdrawal to prepared defensive lines and then to a stronghold area in southeastern Manchuria for the final defensive action. The Japanese made some fatal assumptions about terrain, believing the western approaches untrafficable due to the vast Mongolian desert and the natural barrier formed by the Grand Khingan Mountains. Their intelligence weakened, the Japanese could not see the usual early warning indicators. Imperial Japanese Headquarters also refused to believe that the Red Army could carry out large-scale combined-arms assaults in Manchuria due to the perceived weakness of the Soviet logistical systems.

On 9 August 1945, the main attack took place on the western Manchurian border where the Red Army bypassed fortified border regions, moving though the desert and Grand Khingan Mountains with minimal problems. Reaching goals ahead of schedule, the army outran its logistics supply lines, so fuel had to be airlifted in using lend-lease DC-3s. The 1st Far Eastern Front formed the second pincer of the double envelopment. Its mission called for penetrating the border area and linking up with forces of the Trans-Baikal Front deep in central Manchuria. It commenced attack in darkness under cover of thunderstorms, catching the Japanese completely off guard. Another army came across the Amur and Ussuri rivers, directly attacking Manchuria.

The Red Air Force was able to establish air superiority because the Japanese had withdrawn most air assets as the American island-hopping campaigns got closer to the Japanese main islands. The Red Air Force flew reconnaissance and resupply missions for the most part, providing close air support during the breakthrough of the so-called concrete belt in northern Manchuria. The Soviets also began operations against the Kurile Islands, attacked the southern half of Sakhalin Island, and conducted amphibious assaults in modern-day North Korea to interdict Japanese sea lines of communication across the Sea of Japan. Their establishment of air superiority allowed the Soviets to take greater risks, dropping battalion-size formations to capture major cities in southern Manchuria and seizing communications centers. The campaign, marked by both tactical and strategic surprise, continued until 17 August 1945. The Japanese did not widely follow the emperor’s order to surrender, issued on 14 August, until Imperial Headquarters made a subsequent broadcast. Glantz also explains how the Soviets had planned to seize the northern island of Hokkaido, which would have led to a split Japan during the Cold War. Japanese fighting on Sakhalin Island and the fact that the Japanese gave up after the second atomic explosion thwarted Stalin.

Unfortunately, the volumes contain little on airborne or air force operations, providing few details about the size, capabilities, or types of aircraft used by the Soviet or Japanese air forces. Part of the problem may be the lack of Russian source material; nevertheless, Airmen would have appreciated a bit more information. The books also fail to address military setbacks: the Soviet army may have been bloodied, but no campaign operates without problems. Again, the lack of Soviet archival data could account for the omission. The illustrations, however, are commendable. Rare pictures and maps give readers the proper orientation as they read about the campaign.

Excellent and long overdue accounts, The Soviet Strategic Offensive and Soviet Operational and Tactical Combat are required reading for World War II historians and people interested in Russian/Soviet tactics. The post–World War II Soviet army studied these operations, as does the Russian army; August Storm serves as a model for task-organized Soviet maneuver-operation groups.

Capt Gilles Van Nederveen, USAF, Retired
Fairfax, Virginia


Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.


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