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Final salvos of World War II


MOSCOW. (Makhmut Gareyev, for RIA Novosti.) On September 2, 1945, Japan signed a full and unconditional surrender on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

 It marked the end of World War II, which had lasted almost exactly six years and claimed more than 50 million human lives. The Red Army together with Allied troops put the finishing touches to the victory.

The Red Army routed the million-strong Imperial Japanese Kwantung Army, the biggest enemy group in Asia and the Pacific, which had 1,155 tanks, 5,360 artillery weapons, 1,800 war planes, and 25 ships. The Japanese had set up long-term, multi-level concrete fortifications linked by underground tunnels with food and water supplies for several months to come. They were getting ready for incessant fighting.

The Manchurian strategic offensive conducted by the Soviet troops in the Far East from August 9 to September 2, 1945, has gone down as one of the brightest pages of military arts and WWII war history. The operation took place over a front of 5,000 km, and to a depth of 200 to 800 km. The terrain was very difficult, with deserts, steppes, mountains, forests, and marshlands crossed by the great Amur, Argun, and Sungari rivers.

Regardless, the Red Army killed about 84,000 officers and men, took prisoner about 700,000, and lost no more than 12,000 of its own soldiers - less than 1% of its troops involved. Neither the Wehrmacht, nor the Anglo-American allies scored such a success in any operation during World War II.

Some Western scholars explain this outstanding success by pointing to the complete demoralization of the Japanese Imperial Army after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its end as a powerful military force. Moreover, the Soviet Union's participation in the final stages of World War II was not necessary because the troops of the U.S. and its Allies could cope with imperialist Japan alone. Those who make such statements are either deliberately lying or do not know much about the history of World War II.

To begin with, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill repeatedly asked Supreme Commander-in-Chief Joseph Stalin (in Tehran in 1943 and in Yalta in 1944) to provide military help against Japan. Stalin promised to help, and confirmed to new U.S. President Harry Truman at the conference in Potsdam in 1945 that the Red Army would start an operation against the Kwantung Army exactly three months after Nazi Germany signed the surrender. Soviet troops crossed the line of contact with the Japanese Army on the night of August 8.

Military historians know why Washington insisted that the Soviet Union intervene against Japan. In August 1945, Japan had almost 7,000,000 troops, 10,000 planes, and 500 warships in Asia and the Pacific. The Allied armies had only 1,800,000 troops, and 5,000 planes. If the Soviet Union had not joined the war, Japan's strongest Kwantung Army could have concentrated its main forces against the Americans, in which case the war would have lasted at least for another year or two, rather than one month. The U.S. would have lost more than a million people. Pentagon leaders bluntly told President Truman about the situation. It is a fact of history that initially Truman did not see much point in Soviet participation in the war, but it was not difficult for American generals to make him change his mind.

Secondly, the Kremlin was also interested in defeating the Kwantung Army, liberating China's north-eastern districts (Manchuria) and North Korea, destroying Tokyo's military and economic bases in Asia - a bridgehead for attacking the U.S.S.R. and Mongolia - and assisting Chinese patriots to oust the occupants from their homeland.

These goals were fuelled by the Kremlin's desire to take revenge for Russia's disgraceful defeat in the war against Japan in 1905, and to retrieve the lost South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. In August 1945, I was in the attacking Fifth Army of the First Far Eastern Front, and I remember that almost every soldier was bent on eradicating the disgrace of 1905.

Moreover, the Soviet troops had to ensure the security of the country's borders in the Far East. During the 1,415 days of the Great Patriotic War the country had to keep up to 40 fully-fledged divisions that were so badly needed at the Soviet-German front, all the more so during the decisive battles for Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk. Some Western scholars claim that the Japanese were rather quiet in the border regions, and had no intention of attacking the U.S.S.R. This is not true, either. The Kwantung Army repeatedly staged armed provocations against Soviet troops and violated Soviet land and maritime frontiers, as well as air space. More than a thousand provocations were registered from 1941 to 1945. Japan detained Soviet ships 178 times, and sunk eighteen of them.

What effect did the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki produce on the Kwantung Army? The nuclear bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9. Prominent Japanese historian Hattori wrote that on August 10 the Emperor's General Headquarters ordered General Otozo Yamada to "concentrate the main effort against the Soviet Union and to rout the enemy." On August 14, when Tokyo decided to surrender on the terms of the Potsdam declaration of July 26, 1945, and notified the governments of the U.S., U.S.S.R., and Britain, the Kwantung Army still did not receive an order to stop fighting.

It was only due to the rapid offensive by the Soviet air- and navy-supported army, powerful artillery strikes, airborne landing behind the enemy lines, and the scattering of the Kwantung Army into unequal and isolated units, that the troops of Emperor Hiroshito were compelled to lay down arms and surrender after August 20. But I saw myself that some fortified districts near Gradekovo and the Verblyud Mountain continued stubborn resistance even when they were fully encircled even after September 2.

It should be emphasized that the Manchurian strategic offensive demonstrated not only the Red Army's increased power by the end of the war, but also the outstanding military skills of its commanders. It is enough to mention the rapid transfer of 400,000 troops, over 7,000 artillery guns, 1,100 planes from the West to the East in 136,000 railway carriages. The Japanese intelligence service did not even notice this transfer, despite a powerful network of agents in the Far East.

The Soviet command also planned to start an offensive on the Japanese positions on the night of August 8. The head of Fifth Army intelligence (the Japanese also had a Fifth Army) reported to General Yamada about the impending attack. The general wrote on the report: "Only an imbecile can dare start an offensive in the Maritime Territory in August, when the rain never ends, and all roads become unfit for the movement of troops."

But the Soviet Union launched an offensive and won. This was an arduous victory. Tanks and artillery guns got stuck in tons of mud. Cavalry units could barely move. Kilograms of mud stuck to soldiers' boots and horses' legs, but the troops advanced faster than the army did on the Soviet-German front even in the dry summer.

Much credit also goes to the Chinese peasants. Nobody asked them to help but they did so of their own free will. The Japanese had driven them to such a state that they literally carried by hand our armored vehicles so that we could oust their worst enemies from their land.

I'd like to say a few words about our cooperation with the Allies.

Those in charge of the operations had agreed in advance on combat areas, routes of advance, and zones of occupation. But not all missions were carried out without a snag. Battalions of the Colonel General Ivan Chistyakov's 25th Army had reached the northern outskirts of Seoul and waited there for two days before the Americans came and occupied their designated area. When the units of our 39th Army approached Port Arthur, two groups of Americans on fastboats attempted to land and seize a strategic bridgehead. Soviet soldiers had to open fire, but they shot into the air so as to oust the unwanted guests.

The Americans did not honor their commitment to jointly occupy the island of Hokkaido, as the leaders of the three powers had agreed. General Douglas MacArthur, whose word carried much weight with President Truman, bluntly rejected the idea of Soviet presence in Japan. In turn, the Soviet Union did not allow the Pentagon to deploy its military bases on the Kurile Islands. It was clear that if they had occupied these islands, it would have been extremely difficult to make them leave.

An analysis of the outcome of World War II and of its last days suggests the main conclusion that the leading countries can defeat a common evil only by concerted effort. German Nazism and Japanese militarism were the common evil in the middle of the past century. Now the enemy is international terrorism. There is no room for considerations of expediency or petty self-centered politics. Without solidarity and all-round assistance to each other we are doomed to fail. But we are invincible when we are at one.

General of the Army Makhmut Gareyev is president of the Academy of Military Sciences

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