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Old 03-14-2010, 09:50 PM
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Default The Sino-Soviet War, Pt. 2.4


The Sino-Soviet War, Pt. 2.4


Over the surprisingly vehement protests of the army commanders and the division commanders of 1st Far East Front, the Soviet forces in Manchuria began rolling forward again on September 20, 1995. After a month of heavy fighting and a rapid advance through Manchuria, the Soviet ground forces were in poor condition. Vehicle losses to enemy action and mechanical failure had been high. Between combat and non-combat losses in the truck park of 1st Far East Front and the increasing distance of the front line from friendly territory, the Soviet logistical system in Manchuria already was straining badly. Losses among the infantry were high, and casualties had reached 45,000. The troops were exhausted. (In a portent of what was to come, political officers arrested two divisional commanders and three regimental commanders who refused to send their formations forward without more rest and replacements.) Nevertheless, supported by air and artillery preparation of the Chinese positions on the south side of the Sungari and Tao’er Rivers, light Soviet forces crossed the water on their own to secure bridging locations. At Harbin, Fifth and Nineteenth Armies already had been slogging their way into the city against determined resistance by Ninth Group Army.

The Chinese were horrified. Their forces in Manchuria were in appalling shape. Twenty-Third Group Army, with one tank, one mechanized, and two motorized divisions, was centered on Tao’en. Of the group armies in Manchuria, Twenty-Third was in the best shape. The group army had lost nearly half its fighting vehicles and about as many trucks and support vehicles. Artillery strength was down by a third, and ammunition was in short supply. No combat battalion in the group army had more than seventy-five percent of its authorized manpower; some were down to forty percent.

North of Changchun was First Armored Group Army. The group army had absorbed virtually all the remaining fighting vehicles from Thirty-Fifth Group Army. Thirty-Fifth Group Army also had surrendered many of its (relatively) intact units to rebuild the First Armored. As a result, the First Armored disposed four heavy divisions that were at about sixty percent of their authorized combat strength. CINC Shenyang MR had assigned the group army the mission of holding the line of the Sungari while reinforcements continued to move into Manchuria.

Thirty-Fifth Group Army was in assembly areas around Changchun. Gutted to provide replacements for the First Armored, the Thirty-Fifth was absorbing units arriving in the area. Already an airborne division had arrived from the Beijing MR, and more forces were on their way.

Southeast of Changchun, Fifth (Mountain) Group Army had established defensive positions based on the rail line running south from Jilin. The Fifth had absorbed a light infantry division from the Beijing MR, and replacements had brought the two surviving original divisions to about eighty percent of authorized strength. The Fifth was assigned to protect the right flank of the main defensive effort anchored in the Changchun region.

The Soviet attack started in the center, based along a road-and-rail system connecting Harbin and Changchun. Seventeenth Army opened the effort with prodigious air and artillery support. Against stubborn resistance, the Soviets established two bridgeheads by nightfall. First Armored Group Army threw considerable combat power into a counterstroke to smash the bridgeheads. At a high price, the Chinese sealed off and destroyed the bridgehead. Soviet artillery and armed helicopters destroyed large numbers of Chinese AFVs as they moved forward.

Further west, Eighth Tank Corps established a bridgehead in the Fuyu area. Heavy units were soon across, and the corps quickly initiated a drive oriented to the southwest on Changchun. The Soviets hoped to fix First Armored Group Army south of the Sungari with Seventeenth Army and envelop the defenders with Eighth Tank Corps.

On the far right flank of 1st Far East Front, Fifteenth Army launched a series of probes against Twenty-Third Group Army. This action was intended to fix the defenders in place and prevent any of the mobile forces from interfering in the action unfolding around Changchun.

With Eighth Tank Corps across the Sungari in strength, CINC Shenyang MR saw that the holding action of First Armored Group Army could easily become a trap. Though he was loathe to give up good positions south of the river, he ordered a withdrawal to Changchun. The Soviets quickly gave chase.

At Harbin, Fifth and Nineteenth Armies had used brute fire to overcome determined resistance by Ninth Group Army. By September 21, Fifth Army had captured the city center. For the next three days, Nineteenth Army mopped up pockets of resistance while Fifth Army was pulled out of the city to support operations further south.

By nightfall on September 21, Eighth Tank Corps was probing Chinese defensive positions northwest of Changchun. Seventeenth Army had re-established bridgeheads across the Sungari and was nipping at the heels of the First Armored as the Chinese mobile forces withdrew. CINC Shenyang MR decided that he lacked the strength to hold Chengchan as things stood, and he ordered First Armored Group Army to pass through the city and hold open a supply route on the south side of the city. Thirty-Fifth Group Army would hold the city as long as possible.

Eighth Tank Corps bypassed Changchun to the west and hit First Armored Group Army on the Chinese left flank. Soviet tanks penetrated the Chinese line and severed the main lines of communication to the south. First Armored Group Army now began to retire towards the road-and-rail junction at Siping, where the newly-arrived Eighth Group Army with three infantry divisions was preparing defensive positions.

At this point, the Soviet offensive was on its last legs. The logistical situation had become intolerable, and the manpower situation was not much better. Eighth Tank Corps was fighting south of Changchun without being able to trace a single rail line or major road back to Soviet-controlled territory. The corps was being sustained by airdrops and by the action of medium- and heavy-lift helicopters. The corps chief logistician was reporting that he expected the corps to run out of fuel and ammunition at any hour. The tank battalions were at one-third to one-half their normal strength. The corps would not be able to take Siping if the Chinese offered any serious resistance there; and in any event, Eighth Tank Corps lacked the infantry strength to dig out the Chinese infantry that were clearly digging in at Siping in force.

Elsewhere, the Soviet situation was no better. Seventeenth Army was attacking into Changchun. Both attackers and defenders were exhausted, and the combat seemed to move in slow motion. This favored the defenders, however, who were motivated to hold their position astride the north-south lines of communication running through the city. By September 25, Nineteenth Army had cleared Harbin. The army was in poor condition after more than a month of hard fighting. Fifth Army was in better shape and was moving south towards Changchun to take up the advance. However, fuel shortages plagued the movement of the Soviets.

On September 26, Eighth Tank Corps simply stalled in front of Siping. First Armored Group Army had passed through the city already, leaving a trail of broken-down vehicles behind it. Before Eighth Tank Corps was the dug-in infantry of Eighth Group Army. CINC Far Eastern TVD decided that it would be useless to try to bull through entrenched infantry under these conditions, and the corps lacked the fuel to attempt a major flanking movement. He ordered Eighth Tank Corps to stand in place until Fifth Army could come up to take up the advance again.

In the west, Fifteenth Army had made little progress against Twenty-Third Group Army at Tao’er. Supplies and what replacements were available had been going to the main effort against Changchun. Until the supply situation improved, Fifteenth Army would make no more progress.

Unfortunately, the supply situation did not appear to offer any immediate prospects for improvement. The lengthy supply lines and the conditions of the Manchurian transportation network meant that the existing logistical system was performing at its meximum tempo just to maintain the current level of operations. Building up any stockpiles would require a temporary halt in the offensive.

An additional and growing problem was the action of Chinese special operations and irregulars behind the lines. Though Tiananmen Square had cost the Chinese Communists a good deal of their popular support, a substantial citizens’ militia effort had come into being by the end of September. Bridges were blown, and supply convoys were attacked. As a result, what combat power Nineteenth Army still possessed was dispersed throughout the rear area to aid MVD efforts at suppressing guerilla action. Fifteenth Army also found itself obliged to detach units to guard its own lines of communication.

Northwest of Beijing, 2nd Far East Front (now reduced to Thirty-Ninth Army) also had run out of steam. The army had done its job well, parrying counterattacks by numerically superior Chinese forces while inflicting substantial losses on the enemy. However, there was no real prospect of a renewed offensive against Beijing given the current correlation of forces. Thirty-Ninth Army would have to wait for significant reinforcements or a major re-allocation of air assets, which hardly seemed likely.

Barely a week after the Soviets had renewed their offensive, Far Eastern TVD was stalled with no immediate prospects for renewing the attack.

Pandemonium broke out at the Kremlin. In a fury, Sauronski accused Danilov of sabotaging the offensive by denying Far Eastern TVD the manpower and materiel it needed to bring off the attack in one go. Danilov replied that Sauronski had insisted on starting a war without thinking its price through. After swapping angry words, the two men were able to agree on one point: without more men and materiel, Soviet forces in Manchuria would have to withdraw sooner or later.

Replacement personnel already had been assigned to 1st Far East Front. By the end of September, the call-up of reservists had been increased dramatically. At the same time, the release of men completing their terms of service was frozen. Everyone would be retained until the current emergency was resolved. Category 2 divisions were called up throughout the Soviet Union. Additional Frontal Aviation assets were slated for duty in the Far East. MVD units from European Russia were withdrawn and earmarked for rear area security in Manchuria. Trucks were withdrawn from reserve divisions to bolster the logistics effort in Manchuria.

At the same time, the Soviets tried forcing a settlement on the PRC. In a closed door conference, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations suggested to the Chinese ambassador that the USSR was willing to accept a cease-fire rather than continue to allow the bloodshed to continue. The Soviets claimed that they had made their point and that further violence was unnecessary.

In fact, there was good cause for China to accept a cease-fire at that time. Nearly half of Manchuria was in Soviet hands. Much of the Manchurian harvest was lost to China or soon would be. Mineral resources and vital industries were in the hands of the invaders. By the end of September, Chinese losses had surpassed 200,000. Losses of MBTs had climbed to 1,800; and the Soviets had captured or destroyed hundreds of light AFVs, field artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers, and other critical hardware. Aircraft losses, too, were staggering and amounted to more than a third of the national inventory. Some in the Chinese Politburo argued that it was better to cut their losses and accept a cease-fire.

Premier Zhu insisted that China stay in the war. He pointed out that the Soviet offer implied a possible reluctance to go any further. The PLA was certainly badly damaged, but the Army was not finished. Yielding now would bring about an unacceptable loss of face in the international community. It might also spell the end of the rule of the Communist Party in China. Already, there were rumblings throughout the nation. The Party leadership could not quit now.

Moreover, China still had cards to play. With the kind of labor-intensive effort for which China was famed, the military resources of the PRC had been assembled and moved to the northeastern part of the country with a speed that defied the sensibilities of both Soviet and Western intelligence services. Using ingenuity, stubbornness, and sheer human brawn the Chinese had overcome the obstacles of blown bridges, damaged railroads, and cratered highways to move into Manchuria twelve divisions that had yet to see combat. More were on their way. Divisions arriving in the Beijing MR replaced formations which were sent to Shenyang to prepare for a counteroffensive.

The initial defensive effort had failed to repulse the Soviets. However, China might yet seize victory from the jaws of defeat. The Soviets had failed to allocate sufficient resources to their initial invasion to ensure the defeat of the PLA in northeastern China. The result was a deadlock at the front—at least temporarily. Now it would be a race to see who could marshal additional men and materiel and decisively throw them into combat first. Zhu was gambling that China could win this race. There were two or three weeks of good campaigning weather left in Manchuria. China would throw everything she could muster into a single great effort to defeat the Soviets in the field and, at the very least, bring the enemy to the bargaining table on China’s terms.

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