Relief map of Manchuria

Manchuria is located south of eastern Siberia and north of Korea, and is today the northernmost part of China. Its boundaries remained ill-defined in 1941, but the three modern provinces of northeast China have an area of about 304,000 square miles (787,300 km2). The region is dominated by a central plain reaching from the Yellow Sea to the south to the Amur River to the north. To the southeast is Korea, with the Yalu River marking part of the boundary and the rest of the boundary passing through the Chingbai Mountains. Eastern Manchuria, a region of heavily forested hills and swampy valleys, borders on the  Russian Far East. The central plain is frigid and dry in the winter and hot and humid in the summer, with a pronounced monsoon in late summer that produces heavy rain. Western Manchuria takes in part of the Mongolian Plateau and is separated from the central plain by the Greater Khingan Mountains, which reach to over 6000' (2000 m). The western slopes of the Greater Khingan Mountains are almost bare, while the eastern slopes are more wooded and characterized by black soil unsuitable for heavy traffic. Northeast Manchuria is separated from the central plain by the Lesser Khingan Mountains, which are rugged and heavily forested.

Manchuria is remarkably similar to New England in its native vegetation but experiences much colder winter temperatures. It is also rich in resources, including lumber (it was 36% forested in 1941), arable farmland, iron ore, coal, and aluminiferous shale. There was considerable hydroelectric potential along the Yalu River, which forms part of the border with Korea, and in the mountains to the north.

The Manchu (Tsing or Qing) dynasty that seized control of China in 1644 found itself repeatedly clashing with Russian settlers and Cossack cavalry in the Amur River basin, but since both powers had more serious preoccupations elsewhere, the boundary was fixed along the Amur River by treaty in 1689. Thereafter Russia was the only foreign power formally recognized by the Chinese until 1860. The slow decline of the Manchu court, particularly following the Opium War of 1840, the Taiping Revolution of 1850 to 1864, and the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1901, created a power vacuum in Manchuria. The area was still rather thinly settled at the start of the 20th century, but it was a rich prize.  Both Russia and Japan coveted Manchurian resources and saw the region as an important buffer from the other power. Both forced concessions from the Chinese, who were largely powerless to resist this encroachment. The Russo-Japanese War of 1905 finally placed Manchuria firmly in the Japanese sphere of influence, though it remained nominally a part of China. Secret agreements with the Russians, on 30 July 1907 and in 1910, further clarified the respective Soviet and Japanese claims and pledged the two powers to cooperate in excluding other powers from Manchuria. The United States, which had proposed the internationalization of the Manchurian rail system, was the primary target of this agreement. The Lansing-Ishii agreement of 1917 was an acknowledgement by the U.S. that Japan had a special position in Manchuria because of its "territorial propinquity" to east Asia.

The Kwantung Army began developing plans to separate Manchuria from China in 1912, though these plans were initially thwarted by the civilian government in Tokyo. However, on 4 June 1928, officers of the Kwantung Army led by Colonel Komoto Daisaku set a bomb on the South Manchurian Railroad that destroyed the rail car of Chang Tso-lin, the warlord of Manchuria. The assassination of Chang had tacit support from high levels in the Army and even the civilian Cabinet, and was intended to provide an excuse for the Japanese to overrun Manchuria. Although details of the bomb plot were soon leaked to Japanese newspapers, the Army successfully stonewalled the investigation by threatening to pull the War Minister out of the Cabinet. Komoto was quietly forced into retirement, and Chang's son, Chang Hsueh-liang, took control of Manchuria.

In October 1928, Colonel Ishiwara Kanji became the operations officer of Kwantung Army. He was joined by Lieutenant Colonel Itagaki Seishiro in mid-1929 as the ranking staff officer. The two men began planning a Japanese takeover of Manchuria. Other officers were brought into the plot, which depended on rapidly destroying Chang's headquarters in Mukden. Their plans came to fruition on 18 September 1931, when they staged an incident on the Manchurian Railroad as a casus belli. The Kwantung Army quickly seized Mukden, forcing Chang to withdraw from Manchuria with the bulk of his forces, and Manchuria was overrun by the Japanese within two weeks. The Japanese Army again threatened to bring down the Cabinet if it tried to interfere with Army operations in Manchuria. Henry Pu-Yi, the deposed last emperor of China, was brought in as head of the new puppet state of Manchukuo. Few other powers recognized Manchukuo, and the League of Nations condemned the Japanese action. Japan responded by withdrawing from the League. Ishiwara and Itagaki became heroes within the Army, but their action had alienated Japan from much of the world community and had left Kwantung Army with the task of defending an ill-defined 3000-mile border with a hostile and military resurgent Russia.

Manchuria was heavily exploited during Japanese rule, becoming a second industrial heartland for the Japanese.  Japanese planners had calculated than Japan itself had 31% too many farmers for the land available, and under the "Plan for the Settlement of One Million Households over Twenty Years", large numbers of poor Japanese families emigrated to Manchuria. The Japanese immigrants found that their new homeland was already populated by hostile Chinese (numbering over 30 million) whose land had been forcibly purchased for the settlers by the Japanese colonial office. The Japanese villages were often attacked by "bandits."

The Japanese were joined by many immigrants from other parts of China who saw better economic opportunities under the Japanese than under their own weak government. Chinese farm laborer immigrants, mostly from impoverished Shantung and Hopei provinces, numbered no less than half a million per year every year in the 1930s. In a curious role reversal, the Japanese immigrants, many of whom had been sharecroppers in Japan, tended to hire the Chinese as farm laborers.

Japan maintained a large garrison in Manchuria against the possibility of either a Russian invasion or a Russian collapse, and the Japanese Army virtually ran the province. This hindered development, as the Army started with a poor understanding of economics and had a slow learning curve. Nonetheless, production of pig iron peaked at 2.5 million tons per year.

Instrumental in running Manchukuo in the late 193os were the ni ki, san suke ("two k's, three suke") of Tojo Hideki, head of the Kempeitei of the Kwantung Army; Hoshino Naoki, supervisor of economic affairs of Manchukuo; Matsuoka Yosuke, president of the South Manchurian Railway; Kishi Nobosuke, Hoshino's assistant; and Aikawa Yoshisuke, head of the Manchurian Heavy Industries Development Corporation.  Tojo purged Kwantung Army of the Imperial Way Faction (Kōdōha), briefly succeeded in suppressing corruption through strict enforcement of military law, and would later become the wartime prime minister of Japan. Yosuke would become the foreign minister of Japan and negotiate the Russo-Japanese Non-Aggression Pact.

Because of the Russian threat, the Japanese kept Manchuria heavily garrisoned until late in the Pacific War, when the desperate need for troops to hold off the Allied counteroffensive caused the Japanese Army to repeatedly pull reserves from Kwantung Army. By August 1945 Kwantung Army had become a hollow shell.

August Storm

Russia overran Manchuria in a lightning campaign in August 1945, after the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Three Russian armies of 1.5 million men organized into 83 divisions, equipped with 3704 tanks and 1852 self-propelled guns supported by 500 aircraft, stormed across the border from north, west, and east. The Russians crushed the defending forces, which had been depleted to provide replacements and reinforcements in the Pacific and the Japanese homeland, in less than two weeks.

The Russian operational plan for Manchuria proper called for three main thrusts. The Trans-Baikal Front (Malinovsky) attacked from the Mongolian desert west of Manchuria, sweeping past the border defenses to cross the Grand Khingan Mountains into central Manchuria. 1 Far Eastern Front (Meretskov) simultaneously attacked across the rugged terrain of east Manchuria towards Mutanchiang. 2 Far Eastern Front (Purkaev) attacked northern Manchuria, primarily as a holding action.

The attack commenced shortly after midnight on 9 August 1945. The Japanese were caught entirely by surprise, in spite of reports from the consulate in Chita of a great increase in rail traffic and signals intelligence pointing to a Russian offensive. The General Staff could do little to bolster the Manchurian defenses given the critical situation in the Pacific, and, in an astonishing display of wishful thinking, ignored the danger. The Russians ensured that the Japanese would remain complacent with their maskirova, or deception plan, which included careful measures to conceal Russian preparations. Russian troops moved into their jumping off points only at night, and behind masking walls and overhead covers. So great was Japanese complacence that, in an astonishing parallel to the Germans at Normandy, the commander of 5 Army had called all his senior commanders away to a table top exercise the night of the attack.

The Japanese had counted on heavy fortifications on their frontiers to cover any likely Russian axis of attack and hold the Russians long enough to organize a solid defense. However, the Russians had meticulously planned their operation, which called for massive artillery and air support and rapid thrusts led by powerful armored units, which would advance through terrain the Japanese thought unsuitable for mechanized operation and bypass the Japanese strong points.

Heavy rain the night of 8-9 August helped conceal the initial Russian movements on the eastern border, and many Russian commanders here chose to cancel the preparatory artillery barrages in order to increase the element of surprise. This proved devastatingly effective. Some Russian units advanced fifty miles in the first two and a half days, disrupting Japanese command and control and giving the Japanese no opportunity to organize a meaningful defense. Commanders lost contact with their forward units almost at once, and premature demolition of bridges trapped retreating Japanese. Isolated Japanese strong points were mopped up by the second Russian echelon. supported by direct fire from 152mm self-propelled guns.

Russian engineering support was crude but effective. In the forested swamps northeast of Khanka Lake, tanks led the way, knocking down trees that were then gathered by the supporting infantry and worked into crude corduroy roads by engineers. The roads were further widened and improved by successive echelons in the advance. River crossings were supplied with a limited number of A-3 assault boats, but most troops were expected to construct their own rafts, as they had in Europe. The Russians showed an impressive mastery of close cooperation between armor, infantry, artillery, and engineers, learned the hard way in the war against the Germans.

Japanese resistance was sometimes locally ferocious. At Maly Huankang (133.006E 45.226N), Russian forces were held up by fire from an armored tower that had to be destroyed by direct fire by heavy artillery guns. The heaviest fighting of the campaign took place around Mutanchiang, which fell on the evening of 15 August 1945.

In western Manchuria, the Russian forces would have to cross the Grand Khingan Mountains. Though these were not particularly high, they were rugged, with many defiles and gullies and with only a few narrow passes, most of which had no road. Only two were considered usable by the Japanese for invasion. The first ran from Handagai to Solunshan and the second from Hailar to Tsitsihar. The Japanese naturally concentrated their defenses in these passes, but the Russians bypassed the fortified passes with their armored spearheads and isolated the Japanese garrisons. This stretched Russian logistics, particularly in fuel and maps, to the limit; but Japanese resistance away from the fortified passes was all but nonexistent, and the Russians were able to work their way through the mountains, reaching Solunshan on 12 August and breaking into the central Manchurian plain. 107 Division, the main force guarding the southern passes, fought bravely but in vain, and was shattered by 15 August. The survivors withdrew into the mountains and ultimately surrendered to 221 Rifle Division.

Hailar was invested and bypassed by 11 August.The retreating 119 Division was driven out of Yakoshin (120.714E 49.267N) by 13 August and could not hold at Wunuerh (121.048E 49.077N). By 17 August, 36 Army had reached Pokatu (121.904E 48.743N) and poised to advance on Tsitsihar.

Russian forces of 15 Army attacked towards Chiamussu, primarily to pin down the Japanese forces in the area. These were build around 134 Division and 14 Border Guard Brigade. The Japanese abandoned Tungchiang (132.496E 47.642N) on 10 August, and the Russians were able to make effective use of elements of Amur River Flotilla to bypass resistance in the swampy valley of the Sungari River, taking Fuchin on 13 August and reaching Chiamussu on 16 August.

The campaign in Manchuria was carried out simultaneously with an attack on Karafuto and landings in the Kuriles. These were not as successful as the campaign in Manchuria. The attack on Karafuto was channeled into a narrow valley that the Japanese had heavily fortified, and the amphibious landings in the Kuriles and in support of the Karafuto attack were hampered by the inexperienced of the Russians in amphibious assault and by a lack of amphibious shipping. The Russian landing forces were carried on trawlers and other improvised transports and escorted by escort cutters, torpedo cutters, and other auxiliaries. The landings would not have been possible had Japan's navy not already been all but destroyed by the Americans.

The fighting did not end until 19 August 1945, when the fortress of Hutou, which had been isolated on the first day of the campaign, surrendered. The Russians inflicted 674,000 Japanese casualties, including 84,000 killed, at a cost of 12,031 dead and 24,425 sick or wounded. American researchers estimate that the Soviets captured 2,726,000 Japanese nationals during the campaign, of which only a third were military. Of these, 2,379,000 eventually returned to Japan. Some 254,000 were confirmed dead, and the remaining 93,000 were presumed dead.

Of the 220,000 Japanese farmers who had emigrated to Manchuria, about 80,000 died during the harsh winter of 1945-1946. Some 11,000 were killed by vengeful Chinese, some committed suicide, and 67,000 starved. The 140,000 survivors were eventually returned to Japan.

The Russians turned Manchuria over to the Chinese three weeks after the end of hostilities, but not before removing most of the industrial plant and giving the arms surrendered by the Japanese to the Chinese Communists.

Russian order of battle, 9 August 1945

Soviet Forces Far East (Vasilevsky)
Trans-Baikal Front (Malinovsky: West Manchuria and Inner Mongolia )     
654,040 men. Ordered to attack western Manchuria.

17 Army (Danilov)

209 Division
278 Division
284 Division
70 Separate Tank Battalion
82 Separate Tank Battalion

36 Army (Luchinsky)

2 Rifle Corps (Lopatin)

103 Division
275 Division
292 Division

86 Rifle Corps (Revunenkov)

94 Division
210 Division

Operational Group

293 Division
298 Division

205 Tank Brigade
33 Separate Tank Battalion
35 Separate Tank Battalion
68 Engineer Sapper Brigade
4 artillery regiments
3 mortar regiments
1 rocket regiment

39 Army (Lyudnikov)

5 Guards Rifle Corps (Bezugly)


17 Guards Division
19 Guards Division
91 Guards Division

94 Rifle Corps (Popov)

124 Division
221 Division
358 Division

113 Rifle Corps (Oleshev)

192 Division
262 Division
338 Division

61 Tank Division
44 Tank Brigade
206 Tank Brigade
32 Engineer Sapper Brigade
5 Artillery Penetration Corps
3 regiments of self-propelled guns
1 artillery brigade
4 artillery regiments
1 mortar regiment
4 rocket regiments

53 Army (Managarov)

18 Guards Rifle Corps (Afonin)

1 Guards Airborne Division
109 Guards Division
110 Guards Division

49 Rifle Corps (Terent'ev)

6 Division
243 Division

57 Rifle Corps (Safiulin)

52 Division
203 Division

54 Engineer Sapper Brigade

6 Guards Tank Army (Kravchenko)

5 Guards Tank Corps (Savel'ev)

20 Guards Tank Brigade
21 Guards Tank Brigade
22 Guards Tank Brigade
6 Guards Motorized Brigade

9 Guards Mechanized Corps (Volkov)

18 Guards Mechanized Brigade
30 Guards Mechanized Brigade
31 Guards Mechanized Brigade
46 Guards Tank Brigade

7 Guards Mechanized Corps (Katkov)

16 Mechanized Brigade
63 Mechanized Brigade
64 Mechanized Brigade
41 Guards Tank Brigade

36 Motorized Rifle Division
57 Motorized Rifle Division
4 Guards Motorcycle Regiment
1 Separate Tank Battalion
2 Separate Tank Battalion
3 Separate Tank Battalion
4 Separate Tank Battalion
8 Motorized Engineer Brigade
22 Motorized Engineer Brigade

Cavalry-Mechanized Group (Pliyev)

59 Cavalry Division
25 Mechanized Brigade
27 Motorized Brigade
43 Tank Brigade
30 Mongolian Regiment
5 Mongolian Cavalry Division
6 Mongolian Cavalry Division
7 Mongolian Cavalry Division
8 Mongolian Cavalry Division
7 Motorized Armored Brigade (Mongolian)
3 Separate Tank Regiment (Mongolian)

227 Division
317 Division
1 Parachute Battalion
2 Parachute Battalion
111 Tank Division
201 Tank Brigade

12 Air Army (Khudiakov)

6 Bomber Corps (Skok)

326 Bomber Division
334 Bomber Division

7 Bomber Corps (Ushakov)

118 Bomber Division
179 Bomber Division

30 Bomber Division
247 Bomber Division
248 Assault Division
316 Assault Division
190 Fighter Division
245 Fighter Division
246 Fighter Division
21st Guards Transport Division
54 Transport Division
12 Reconnaissance Regiment
368 Fighter Regiment
541st Bomber Regiment
257 Transport Regiment
23 Separate Heavy Bomber Squadron

1 Far East Front (Meretskov: East Manchuria and North Korea ) 586,589 men. Ordered to drive on Mukden, Harbin, and Jilin.

1 Red Banner Army (Beloborodov; west of Lake Khanka)

26 Rifle Corps (Skvortsov)

22 Division
59 Division
300 Division

59 Rifle Corps (Ksenofontov)

39 Division
231 Division
365 Division

75 Tank Brigade
77 Tank Brigade
257 Tank Brigade
48 Tank Regiment
12 Engineer Sapper Brigade
27 Engineer Sapper Brigade
3 artillery brigades
3 self-propelled artillery regiments
1 mortar regiment
2 rocket regiments

5 Army (Krylov; at Ussurijsk?)

17 Rifle Corps (Nikitin)

187 Division
366 Division

45 Rifle Corps (Ivanov)

157 Division
159 Division
184 Division

65 Rifle Corps (Perekrestov)

97 Division
144 Division
190 Division
371 Division

72 Rifle Corps (Kazartsev)

63 Division
215 Division
277 Division

72 Tank Brigade
76 Tank Brigade
208 Tank Brigade
210 Tank Brigade
218 Tank Brigade
20 Motorized Assault Engineer Sapper Brigade
23 Engineer Sapper Brigade
63 Engineer Sapper Brigade
46 Motorized Engineer Brigade
55 Pontoon Bridge Battalion
16 artillery brigades
6 self-propelled artillery regiments
4 mortar brigades
9 rocket regiments

25 Army (Chistyakov)

39 Rifle Corps (Morozov)

40 Division
384 Division
386 Division

393 Division
259 Tank Brigade
100 Engineer Battalion
222 Engineer Battalion
143 Sapper Battalion

35 Army (Zakhvatayev; at Khabarovsk?)

66 Division
264 Division
363 Division
125 Tank Brigade
209 Tank Brigade
280 Engineer Battalion
2 artillery brigades
1 mortar brigade
1 rocket regiment

Chuguevsk Operational Group (Zaitsev)

335 Division
355 Division

Front Units

87 Rifle Corps (Khetagurov)

342 Division
345 Division

88 Rifle Corps (Loviagin)

105 Division
258 Division
84 Cavalry Division

10 Mechanized Corps (Vasil'ev)

42 Mechanized Brigade
72 Mechanized Brigade
204 Tank Brigade
11 Pontoon Bridge Brigade
5 Pontoon Bridge Battalion
30 Pontoon Bridge Battalion

9 Air Army (Sokolov)

19 Bomber Corps (Volkov)

  33 Bomber Division
  55 Bomber Division

34 Bomber Division
251 Assault Division
252 Assault Division
32 Fighter Division
249 Fighter Division
250 Fighter Division
6 Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment
799 Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment
464 Reconnaissance Correction Regiment
281 Transport Regiment

2 Far East Front (Purkayev: Northern Manchuria ) 337,096 men. Ordered to support other fronts while sending a column towards Peiping.

2 Red Banner Army (Terêkhin)

3 Division
12 Division
396 Division
368 Mountain Regiment
73 Tank Brigade
74 Tank Brigade
258 Tank Brigade
10 Pontoon Bridge Battalion
277 Engineer Battalion

15 Army (Mamonov)

34 Division
255 Division
361 Division
388 Division
165 Tank Brigade
171 Tank Brigade
203 Tank Brigade
10 Pontoon Bridge Brigade
21 Motorized Assault Engineer Sapper Brigade
101 Engineer Battalion
129 Engineer Battalion
6 artillery regiments
2 mortar regiments
2 rocket regiments

16 Army (Cheremisov)
Ordered to seize Karafuto

56 Rifle Corps (D'iakonov)

5 Brigade
113 Brigade
432 Regiment
540 Regiment
206 Battalion
214 Tank Brigade
178 Tank Battalion
678 Tank Battalion

Front Units

5 Rifle Corps (Pashkov)

35 Division
390 Division
172 Division

88 Brigade

Kamchatka Defense Region (Gnechko)

101 Division
198 Regiment
5 Battalion
7 Battalion

47 Motorized Engineer Brigade

10 Air Army (Zhigarev)

18 Mixed Aviation Corps (Niukhtilin)

96 Assault Division
296 Fighter Division

83 Bomber Division
128 Mixed Aviation Division
255 Mixed Aviation Division
253 Assault Division
29 Fighter Division
254 Fighter Division
7 Reconnaissance Division
411 Reconnaissance Correction Regiment
344 Transport Regiment

Amur Flotilla (Antonov)

Japanese order of battle, 9 August 1945

Kwantung  Army (Yamada)
Total strength 713,724 men.
All strengths below are relative to 12 Division in 1937.
1 Area Army (Kita; at Mutanchiang)

122 Division (Akashika)
At 35% strength

134 Division (Izeki; at Chiamussu)
At 15% strength

139 Division (Tominaga)
At 15% strength

12 Independent Engineer Regiment

3 Army (Murakami)

132 Independent Mixed Brigade
At 15% strength

101 Mixed Regiiment

79 Division (Ota)
At 15% strength

112 Division (Nakamura)
At 35% strength

127 Division (Koga)
At 20% strength

128 Division (Mizuhara)
At 20% strength

5 Army (Shimizu; at Yehho [124.538E 42.946N])

18 Engineer Regiment
Road bridge construction

124 Division (Shina; at Pamientung [Muling; 130.531E 44.911N])
At 35% strength

126 Division (Nomizo; at Muleng [Mulingzhen; 130.253E 44.518N)     
At 20% strength

135 Division (Hitomi; at Linkou [130.260E 45.281N])
At 15% strength. Grossly deficient in equipment.

3 Area  Army (Ushiroku)

108 Division (Iwai)
At 65% strength

171 Cavalry Regiment

136 Division (Makamura)
At 15% strength

79 Independent Mixed Brigade
At 15% strength

130 Independent  Mixed Brigade
At 15% strength

134 Independent Mixed Brigade
At 15% strength

1 Tank Brigade

30 Army (Iida)

40 Engineer Regiment

39 Division (Sasa)
At 80% strength but lacked artillery

125 Division (Imari)
At 20% strength

138 Division (Yamamoto)
At 15% strength

148 Division (Suemitsu)
At 15% strength; had almost no small arms

44 Army (Hongo; at Liaoyuan [125.144E 42.893N])

9 Independent Tank Brigade

63 Division (Kishigawa)
At 20% strength

107 Division (Abe; at Wuchakou [120.309E 46.765N])
At 60% strength

117 Division (Suzuki)
At 20% strength

34 Army (Kushibuchi)

133 Independent Mixed Brigade
At 15% strength

59 Division (Fujita)

137 Division (Akiyama)
At 15% strength

5 Air Army (Seoul)

4 Army (Uemura; at Tsitsihar) Formerly under 3 Area Army but directly subordinated to Kwantung Army in May 1945

131 Independent Mixed Brigade

135 Independent Mixed Brigade At 15% strength

136 Independent Mixed Brigade At 15% strength

29 Independent Engineer Regiment      Road bridge construction

119 Division (Shiozawa) At 70% strength

80 Independent Mixed Brigade At 15% strength

123 Division (Kitazawa) At 35% strength. No mobile artillery.

149 Division (Sasaki) At 15% strength. Had no artillery.


Collingham (2011)

Coox (1986)

Dorn (1974)

Drea (2009)

Edgerton (1997)
Frank (1999)

Glantz (1983 [accessed 2008-12-10]; 2003)

Hastings (2007)

Hoyt (1993)

Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Kotani (2009)

Liu (1956)

Myers and Peattie (1984)

Peattie et al. (2011)

Sih (1977)

Willmott (1982)

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