Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Deadly Pancake

In the last few years I've talked about the battles of Nomonhan several times, and today I'll be returning to that battlefield. First I wanted to talk about why we keep ending up there. For such a tiny war, a few months and a few divisions you have so much material. For anyone interested in the military it is a topic that must be studied. It has so many elements, new technology, logistics and psychology. On the latter, the Japanese are a fascinating study, where the Japanese Command's plans often seem to look like this:

Equally you have the Japanese trying out new tactics and weapon systems, and drawing totally and utterly the wrong conclusions simply because of their world view. There's one other reason why this small brushfire war keeps cropping up, this is because it is so well researched. At first glance you might think, especially from the Japanese point of view, that this is impossible, as there's no more than three or four works on the subject. Luckily one of those works (Nomonhan, by Dr Alvin Coox) is a masterpiece. The book itself is about two inches thick, and is well over 1000 pages. Dr Coox must have put an unimaginable amount of time into it, including interviewing a great many Japanese veterans of the war. If you're remotely interested in the Japanese in World War Two it's a must have, as it explains and gives insight and depth into something that is often seen as baffling and simplistically explained here in the west, the Japanese psyche and world view that gave the war in the CBI and PTO it's rather distasteful but unique character.
Including today's article, and the previous ones, there's at least one more story that I could use as a start point for an article, but today we'll be looking at the Ioki Detachment.

The fighting at Nomonhan stuttered to life when in early 1939 a force of Mongolian troops went looking for grazing for their horses. As is often the case in history the trouble was that the border wasn't clearly defined. Both sides claimed the Mongolian troops were on their side of the border, and despite it being in the middle of nowhere with no strategic importance the Japanese reacted by dispatching the reconnaissance regiment from the 23rd Division, to see off the interlopers. This ill fated force was named Detachment Azuma after its commander. In short order the force was destroyed and both sides turned their attention to this insignificant desert.
Japanese troops marching to Nomonhan, you can see what he terrain is like from this picture.
The reconnaissance regiment was re-built and took part in the fighting, the new commander was the diabetic Lieutenant Colonel Ioki Eiichi. Originally it was to be part of a force sent to cross the Halha River, however on July 10th 1939 it was dispatched to occupy the northernmost flank position of the Japanese forces at Fui Heights. The term “heights” is slightly misleading it was described by one officer who saw it as a slightly raised pancake. The detachment set to digging in along it's awfully over extended frontage of 300 meters, while the battle raged elsewhere. There was some brief combat on July the 15th, when the Detachment was supported by tank fire. In August the initiative had passed to the Soviets, and they began to use their logistical superiority to prepare a hammer blow. The soldiers of the Ioki Detachment could watch Soviet forces crossing the river in the distance and amassing to their front. By the 18th the Soviets had a rifle division, one tank brigade, two cavalry regiments and a heavy artillery brigade. Against this Lt Col Ioki could muster two and a half platoons of cavalry (about 80 men with horses) and an engineering company, two machine guns and two companies of infantry. In addition they had a smattering of heavy weapons. These are guesses as to the type of weapon though as my sources fails to list the hardware. Four rapid fire guns possibly Type 94 37mm anti-tank guns. “Rapid fire infantry guns” was the Japanese Army name for anti-tank guns. Two mountain guns, possibly Type 41 or Type 38 75mm pieces, and a battery of infantry guns, these would likely be Type 92 70mm guns, and it’s likely there were two of them. These latter guns would likely only have had HE ammunition, although the rapid fire guns would have had both AP and HE.
Japanese at Nomonhan
Not that it mattered in the end. The 20th was the start of the Soviet attack, at 0500 the heavy guns opened fire. For hours the hill was blanketed by heavy Russian gunfire. The dust and smoke bursts combined to give a visibility of just two meters at times. One of the gun platoon commanders counted three rounds per second landing. This whirlwind of firepower smashed into the Japanese lines destroying most of their few heavy weapons. The commander of the mountain guns, who was described as a large bearded man replied against this overwhelming onslaught, after each gun fired he was seen praying it would find its target. As well as smashing the defences it also smashed the ten meagre wells the troops had dug to provide them with a tiny trickle of water. Another position that had been dug was a seventy meter wide pit where the regiment's horses were tethered. Eighty percent of the horses were killed in the barrage, and the rest stampeded. The charnel pit of the horses was a horrific sight, but many of the cavalry men were secretly relieved. The lack of water meant that none could be spared for their animals who were suffering, equally no time could be given to tending for them. Water became a critical problem in the blistering desert heat. All previous water supply had been done by truck, but now about fifty tanks from two armoured brigades were working their way around each flank of Fui Heights, and the general Soviet assault had routed the forces on either flank of the Detachment and therefore there could be no resupply.
At 2000 the artillery cut off like a light switch. The deafened, thirsty and battered infantry peeked over the top of whatever cover they had left only to see Soviet troops advancing, about thirty meters away.

Part two will be next week.

Image credits:
www.aviapress.com and pwencycl.kgbudge.com