15 May 20
“There are memories time does not erase
‘Forever’ does not make loss forgettable, only bearable.”
Cassandra Clare
Far Eastern Front, the “Manchurian Operation:”
What we in the West refer to as “WWII,” Russians call “The Great Patriotic War.”
Of course, during the progress of that War, the Western Press concentrated on western actions in Africa, Italy, France, islands of the Pacific Campaign, and the atomic bombing of Japan.
Russia’s participation, and her staggering sacrifices, rarely saw the light of day in the Western Press, nor among western historians, writers, and movie-makers.
That bias has been maintained to this day!
In Europe, the “Eastern Front” is thus scarcely noted among western historians and in western school history texts. Few feature films were ever made about it, as opposed to hundreds made about the Western Front and the Pacific Campaign.
Most westerners have at least heard of the Stand at El Alamein, the Normandy Invasion, the assault on Iwo Jima, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Few know much about the heartbreaking siege of Leningrad, the amazing reversal at Stalingrad, and the epic tank battle at Kursk.
And, we know all about Patton, Montgomery, Eisenhower, Bradley, Nimitz, even Erwin Rommel! We know precious little about Georgy Zhukov, Ivan Konev, Mikhail Yefremov.
And so, while the Eastern Front in Europe has been accurately called the “Forgotten Chapter” of WWII, the Far-Eastern Front in Manchuria, which involved no Western troops, is the “Utterly Forgotten Chapter!”
With the fall of Berlin to Soviet troops in April of 1945, the War in Europe was over. However, the Pacific Campaign was still far from settled! The Battle for Okinawa was raging (while Germans were surrendering a half-world away), and would continue through June!
The atomic bomb, under development in America since 1942, was so secret, its existence was known to only a few. Unaware, America commanders in the Pacific were preparing for an amphibious assault of Japan’s main Islands, which everyone knew would be extremely costly in terms of American lives, and would ultimately annihilate most of Japan’s population!
In order to reduce the anticipated carnage, Churchill and President Truman (FDR had died on 12 April 1945) reiterated to Stalin at Potsdam (The Potsdam Conference near Berlin in July of 1945) what had been tentatively agreed to at Yalta (The Yalta Conference in February of 1945 in the Crimea) and both put pressure on Joe Stalin to initiate an attack on Japanese forces in China, mostly in Manchuria, (where they had been stationed since the 1931 invasion), within ninety days of the fall of Berlin (which was on the other side of the world)!
Stalin agreed, and his word was good!
American B29 Bombers, flying from the Marianas, bombed Japan more or less continually (conventional bombs) from November of 1944 through August of 1945. Damage and casualties in Tokyo and other Japanese cities were hideous, but Emperor Hirohito remained unmoved, even after his militant Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo, had been forced out of the office in July of 1944.
The first atomic bomb, dropped by an American B29, went off over Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945. The second (even more powerful than the first), over Nagasaki three days later, on 9 Aug 1945.
Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on 15 August 45. Formal surrender ceremony, on the deck of the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay, took place on 2 Sept 1945.
However, between 9 and 15 Aug 1945, there was much heated discussion among Hirohito and his cabinet. Some believed a “negotiated settlement” was still possible.
There was at least one ill-fated coup attempt!
One factor that tipped the balance was disturbing intelligence reports reaching Hirohito’s ears of trainloads of Soviet troops heading east from Europe and a massive Soviet troop build-up in multiple areas along the already-tense border between Russia and Japanese-occupied Manchuria.
This could mean only one thing!’
Soviets were about to invade, and the loss of Manchuria meant doom for Japan, as Manchuria was the source of most of Japan’s raw materials, and many Japanese factories had been moved to Manchuria so as to be out of range of American strategic bombers!
Russia attacked Japanese forces in Manchuria on two opposing fronts in an enormous operation, nearly as big as German forces during Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Russia’s attack plan (the “Manchurian Operation”) was their own version of Blitzkrieg, as they calculated unplanned interruptions in their forward progress would give Japanese forces the opportunity to redeploy, and bog-down the advance.
Many tanks used by invading Russian forces were lend/lease American Shermans!
The ground attack began on the rainy early morning of 9 Aug 45, exactly ninety days after the Nazi surrender in Berlin.
Stalin had kept his word!
There was no artillery, nor aerial preparation. Japanese forces under General Yamada, numbering over 700k, were to be surprised, and they were! The size and scope of the invasion were huge, and completely unexpected, as Yamada had believed the attack was still weeks away.
The second atomic bomb would go off over Nagasaki later that same day!
When this simultaneous bad news all became clear, Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, told the Supreme Council that same evening that the situation was hopeless, and that Postdam terms must be accepted to avoid further pointless death and destruction.
The Emperor reluctantly agreed!
But, the Supreme Council insisted that Emperor Hirohito retain his position in the post-war government, and communicated that “condition” to the Allies.
This provision was angrily rejected! Only “Unconditional Surrender” was acceptable.
The War continued!
Many Japanese fortified positions were systematically destroyed by Russian assault terms in much the same manner as they had been by US Marines during the Pacific Island-Hopping Campaign, using flame-throwers and white-phosphorous explosives.
With what few planes the Japanese had left, they launched (mostly ineffective) Kamikaze attacks of Soviet armored columns. Other suicidal Japanese attacks became common, but many Japanese troops did choose to surrender to the Soviets.
Japanese civilians in Manchuria were victims of several well-noted massacres, in some cases by desperate and retreating Japanese soldiers who wanted to leave nothing behind, but mostly by resentful Chinese, who had themselves been brutally victimized since 1931
On 14 Aug 1945, the Japanese Supreme Council, and Emperor Hirohito, sent messages to the Allies that they would immediately accept the unconditional surrender terms of Potsdam.
The War was “officially” over at that point, but news was slow to reach Japanese forces in Manchuria, and the language used (in an attempt to save face) was confusing and often misinterpreted. A few Japanese commanders ignored the order!
On 19 Aug 1945, some Japanese units were still actively resisting the Soviet advance, despite Yamada’s order to lay-down arms, but most finally “got it” and started surrendering en-masse.
After a Soviet amphibious landing, the Japanese garrison on Sakhalin Island finally surrendered, en-masse, to Soviet forces on 25 Aug 1945. On the same day, and as the result of a separate Soviet Amphibious landing, the Japanese garrison on the tiny island of Onekotan also surrendered. The rest of the Kuri Islands followed the next day.
The northernmost Japanese home island of Hokkaido was also on the Soviet agenda to be invaded and occupied, but Stalin relented in the face of stern opposition from President Truman.
The Twentieth Century’s second “War to End All Wars” was finally at an end!  All organized resistance was over.
But, relations between the Soviet Union and wartime allies, USA and UK, were already cooling!
Within five years, American and Soviet aircraft would be confronting each other in the sky over the Korean Peninsula, as enemies!