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Old 03-14-2010, 10:51 PM
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Default The Sino-Soviet War, Pt 2.3


The Sino-Soviet War, Pt 2.3


On the Beijing front, Thirty-Ninth Army with its two Soviet tank divisions and two Mongolian motor rifle divisions had crossed the Chinese border on August 21. The mechanized invaders made short work of a border defense division in gently rolling terrain that facilitated mobile operations. Thereafter, Thirty-Ninth Army pushed southeast towards Beijing.

The Chinese recognized that this Soviet effort was nothing more than a diversion. However, there was a real danger to the diversion. If the invaders were allowed to get too close to the national capital, a panic would ensue that not even the most ruthless control of information could prevent. Therefore, Beijing Military Region had to meet the enemy as far from the capital as was practicable.

Sixteenth and Thirtieth Group Armies were dispatched to intercept Thirty-Ninth Army. Each of the group armies possessed three non-mechanized infantry divisions and a tank division. Twenty-First Group Army, also with three infantry divisions and a tank division, was retained in reserve around Beijing. Determined to offer some immediate support to the Shenyang Military Region, the Chinese ordered Ninth Group Army and Fifteenth Group Army, each with three infantry divisions, to Manchuria.

In the generally open terrain west of Zhangziakou, Thirty-Ninth Army met the two advancing group armies. The Soviets used their mobility to the utmost, outmaneuvering the slow foot-mobile Chinese infantry and concentrating their combat power against the Chinese tank divisions in turn. Over the course of a week, Thirty-Ninth Army dealt a series of stinging defeats to Sixteenth and Thirtieth Group Armies. While the 1st Far East Front and Fifteenth Army smashed the withdrawing Chinese in Manchuria, Thirty-Ninth Army steadily whittled away at the Chinese group armies northwest of Beijing.

After September 16, with 1st Far East Front in control of the Tao’er River as far upstream as Tao’en and along the southern length of the Sungari past Fuyu and nearly as far upstream as Jilin, the Soviet advance came to a temporary halt. The respite came none too soon for the Chinese. Twenty-Fourth Group Army and its four divisions were gone. Thirty-Fifth Group Army, having lost its two infantry divisions before the withdrawal from Harbin, had almost nothing left. First Armored Group Army had lost 80% of its soft-skinned vehicles and 70% of its AFVs since first entering combat in August. Fifth (Mountain) Group Army had lost two of its four divisions, though the remaining two had absorbed some replacements and were in decent shape. Twenty-Third Group Army, occupying defensive positions south of Tao’en, was the most combat-ready of the original five group armies of Shenyang Military Region; however, the group army had lost about forty percent of its vehicles and much heavy equipment. Ninth Group Army was isolated at Harbin with little prospect for relief. Already, Nineteenth Army and Fifth Army were pushing spearheads into the city.

The Soviets also had been roughly handled by the Chinese defense. In truth, they had reached their present line wheezing and stumbling. Losses among the infantry had been higher than expected. Though modern Soviet tanks proved superior to the Chinese tanks, losses to mechanical failure had been enormous. Unrecovered broken-down vehicles languished along the roads all the way back to the Soviet borders. The logistical system had been stretched to its limit keeping the advance going, despite the fact that the spearheads grew smaller the further the Soviet Army advanced. The consumption of every category of expendables was significantly higher than anticipated.

The first phase of the Sino-Soviet War was just about at an end. In an amazing campaign, the Soviets had conquered the northern third of Manchuria in less than four weeks. They had destroyed or badly damaged five Chinese group armies, and a sixth was surrounded and ready to be smashed at Harbin. The Soviets had killed or captured 175,000 Chinese troops. A staggering 1,500 MBTs had been destroyed or captured—a fifth of the entire Chinese tank park. Hundreds of field pieces and mortars had fallen into Soviet hands, along with vast quantities of equipment. Nowhere had the Chinese inflicted a serious reversal on the Soviets.

There were several factors involved in the early Soviet successes. To some degree, Soviet war fighting theory been applied and proven. Having seized the initiative, the Soviets were able to apply superior mobility and firepower to concentrate at decisive points on the battlefield. Soviet tanks, anti-tank missiles, and artillery generally were superior to what the Chinese were using. The Soviet ability to conduct photo reconnaissance and signals reconnaissance was vastly superior to that of the Chinese. The Soviets were had air superiority virtually from the onset of operations, and they were able to develop local air supremacy almost at will.

Some factors deserve more attention because their role diminished in the days after mid-September 1995. The Soviets entered the war with a distinct advantage in the arena of electronic warfare (EW). Soviet capabilities in jamming and direction-finding meant that the significant qualitative edge possessed by Chinese soldiers was offset by their inability to communicate. Headquarters and artillery units often received prompt attention from Soviet long-range artillery and aircraft even when they were able to talk to each other. Lack of coordination robbed the Chinese defense of much of its potential. By mid-September, however, the Chinese were beginning to find remedies for their deficiencies in EW. Low-tech methods, land lines, and a more flexible command-and-control system enabled them to restore at least some of their communications ability. Later, Western hardware would level the EW playing field.

Another key factor in the rapid Soviet advance was air power. Soviet intelligence was greatly aided by recon flights; forward-operating ground forces were able to summon close air support (CAS) in a timely fashion; and the Soviet lines of communication generally were kept free of enemy air action. Fixed-wing and rotary-wing assets were equally valuable players. In particular, Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters played a tremendously valuable role in attacking Chinese mobile forces moving behind the front lines. Large groups of helicopter gunships using rockets and cannon slashed supply convoys and truck-mounted infantry units to pieces, while helicopters with anti-tank missiles wrecked havoc among the Chinese mechanized units.

By mid-September, though, the Soviets rapidly were losing their advantage in the air. Deferred maintenance requirements were catching up with fixed-wing and rotary-wing airframes alike. Losses to mechanical failure were growing in number. More and more aircraft were grounded. As a result, the Soviets were losing their ability to attack the enemy from the air and protect their own troops. The fact that the front line had moved so far forward without allowing the air bases to catch up only exacerbated the problem.

For their part, the Chinese were catching on to Soviet operational patterns. In the future, they would thicken the ground-based air defenses accompanying mobile forces. Better use of the existing assets yielded would yield some results as well.

Behind the front lines, the Soviets already were experiencing attacks on their supply lines by Chinese militia and special operations personnel. As of mid-September the problem was little more than a nuisance. The problem would grow.

Though the forces of 1st Far East Front, now including Fifteenth Army, were catching their breath along the Sungari River, the Kremlin already was urging CINC Far Eastern TVD to begin the next stage of the conflict. The Soviet leadership wanted to have its forces in Shenyang by mid-October, beyond which time they could not count on good campaign weather. Though CINC Far Eastern TVD wanted to give his divisions and air regiments a full week to rest, resupply, and conduct maintenance, he was inclined to move at the urging of the Kremlin. The remnants of the original forces of Shenyang Military Region were located mostly in the Changchun area. If the Soviets moved quickly, they could catch this group and finish them off. The longer the Soviets waited, the more Chinese reinforcements would arrive in Manchuria.

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