In Soviet historiography, the Soviet-Japanese War of 1945 is overshadowed by grandiose operations against Berlin and Vienna earlier that year. However, Western historians pay close attention to this campaign and debates on whether it was the A-bombs or the Soviet invasion that forced the Japanese to surrender rage on to this day. Famous historian David Glantz even invented a grandiose name for this operation: August Storm. The Red Army's advance was indeed lightning fast, in part thanks to foreign vehicles. This included the M4A2(76)W HVSS, the most advanced Sherman variant sent to the USSR.
Stalin promised to enter the war against Japan within three months of Germany's defeat at the Yalta conference in February of 1945. Colonel-General Alfred Yodl signed an order for unconditional capitulation of all German forces on May 7th, 1945, coming into effect at 23:01 on May 8th. This kicked off the countdown for a Soviet offensive against Japan. The Red Army had three months to move an enormous force to the other side of an equally enormous country.
Concentration of the 6th Guards Tank Army in the vicinity of Tamsagbulag. The army included the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps that used Sherman tanks.
The 6th Guards Tank Army was one of the units that was destined to transfer to the far east. On June 26th, 1945, the unit was reallocated to the Transbaikal Front. It would have to cover a distance of 9000 km to cross from Czechoslovakia to Choibalsan. 88 trains of 60 cars each were allocated for this journey. The full transfer took 30 days, but the first elements began to form up by July 17th. New tanks awaited them there: 100 M4A2(76)W including the latest tanks with HVSS suspensions. These tanks were described in documents as "M4A2 with wide tracks". The 46th Guards Tank Brigade was fully equipped with these vehicles. One company from each of the tank regiments of the 18th, 30th, and 31st Guards Mechanized Brigades that made up the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps also received new tanks.
From Choibalsan, the tanks would make a 300 km march to Tamsagbulag, where the army would prepare for the upcoming offensive. This march took place in extreme conditions. The temperature reached 45 C during the day, as a result of which marches took place only at night to avoid overheating the engines and running gear. This also helped hide the tanks from air reconnaissance, as there was nowhere to conceal them in the desert. The army's documents describe the M4A2 as less sensitive to hot weather than the T-34-85. The American tanks could cover more ground every day, but at the cost of increased fuel consumption. The Shermans normally burned 40 kg of fuel per hour, but this went up to 60 kg in Mongolia. Each tank could only run 90-100 km before refuelling instead of 150 km. The T-34-85 burned only 26 kg of fuel per hour.
|M4A2(76)W HVSS, the newest tanks of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps.
Both Soviet and American tanks broke down during the march. The T-34-85 and SU-100 typically went out of action due to battery failure (180 cases). The T-34-85's tracks also wore quickly. It was estimated that they would have to be changed after 500-600 km of driving. The M4A2's most sensitive part was also its running gear. Tanks with VVSS suspensions had a very high rate of wear on their 4th and 5th wheels, on tanks wit HVSS suspensions only the 5th wheel wore down. This was a widespread issue and just the 46th Gds. TBr. and 84th Gds. TRgt. had to replace 69 wheels. Shermans also needed more water. Instructions required two separate water cisterns on each vehicle: one for the tank and one for the crew. Due to dusty conditions, air filters had to be cleaned every 2-3 hours.
A technical support group was sent after the tanks, consisting of 3-4 mobile workshops, a welding workshop, and trucks with fuel, oil, and spare parts. The group was tasked with restoring broken vehicles, conduct preventative maintenance during rest stops, and act as consultants for the personnel. At rest stops, the tanks were spread out at a distance of at least 30 meters from one another.
The 6th Guards Tank Army was reinforced with the 36th and 57th Motorized Rifle Divisions, an AA division, the 208th Self Propelled Artillery Brigade, two light artillery brigades, two RGK artillery regiments, and a motorized engineering brigade. At the start of the campaign, it numbered 185 M4A2, 416 T-34-85, 193 SU-100, 26 SU-76M, 117 BT-5 and BT-7, 22 T-26, 129 AA guns, 201 mortars, 46 Katyushas, and up to 359 cannons and howitzers.
The vehicles were expected to expend 3 loads of fuel and ammunition during the operation. By the start of the offensive, tank and mechanized units were issued 2.1-2.7 loads of fuel and 2-3 loads of ammo.
|Old T-26 tanks mixed with new T-34-85s. Pre-war tanks turned out to be useless in this operation.
The 6th Guards Tank Army had 57,800 American 76 mm rounds (4.4 loads) and 1800 76 rounds, although no Shermans with 75 mm guns were listed in its inventory. There were also 493,610 .50 cal rounds (5.6 loads) and 19,635 .30 cal rounds (0.6 loads) for American machine guns. The 9th Guards Mechanized Corps that contained nearly all American tanks was issued 2.7 loads of 76 mm ammunition by August 8th.
The USSR declared war on Japan on August 8th, 1945, at 23:00, exactly three months after the German surrender. Soviet troops moved out at midnight. The 6th Guards Tank Army was tasked with crossing the Greater Khingan mountain range as quickly as possible and entering the Central Manchurian Plains. In order to prevent the enemy from pulling up reserves, this had to be achieved by the fifth day of the operation.
|The advance of the 6th Guards Tank Army was swift, but it was limited by mechanical failure of its tanks and shortages of fuel.
The 9th Guards Mechanized Corps took a position in the first echelon of the right column. 183 M4A2 tanks were in action: 35 each in the tank regiments of the 18th, 30th, and 31st Guards Motorized Brigades, 65 with the 46th Guards Tank Brigade, and 10 with the 14th Independent Guards Motorcycle Battalion. Three more vehicles were attached to the corps HQ. The 389th Guards SPG Regiment had 23 SU-100.
The corps was reinforced with the 57th Motorized Rifle Division, 208th SPG Brigade, and 1141st Gun Artillery Regiment. This was a gain of 26 SU-76M, 65 SU-100, 11 T-26, and 100 BT-5 and BT-7. The right column had 296 tanks in total.
The 9th Guards Mechanized Corps was supposed to travel 120 km on the first day, 100 on the second and third, 80 on the fourth and fifth. The corps began its offensive at 04:30, after a 65 km long march. It turned out to be necessary to move during the day in order to meet the required rate of advance. By 16:50 the tanks reached Bain-Hoshun-Sume and were at Noroharola by the end of the day.
|Columns of Soviet tanks in Manchuria.
|Rains turned what little roads were available into mud, making it difficult for even tracked vehicles to advance.
|Path of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps (red line). After crossing the Greater Khingan Mountains, the corps was no longer constrained in maneuver and captured Lubei.
|Tankers of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps and Chinese civilians. The Sherman tank has the older VVSS suspension.
|Refueling. Manchuria, 1945. A lack of fuel was the most serious impediment to the Soviet advance.
|Japanese tanks only showed up as trophies during this campaign.
Across the desert on a steel steed
|BT-7 tanks proved themselves better than the T-26, but still had poorer reliability than more modern tanks.
|Sherman tanks on the offensive. Both VVSS and HVSS suspensions can be seen.