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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Not Enough

We left the Ioki Detachment as the Soviet bombardment lifted on the 20th of August 1939. As the men of the lead platoon raised their heads they could see Soviet troops moving to their front, these were the lead elements of the 601st Rifle Regiment who had been pushed dangerously close to the bombardment. As the enemy movement was only about 30 meters away the Japanese opened up by throwing a number of hand grenades. These caused about fifty Soviet soldiers to break cover and retreat. However they were soon back with reinforcements in the shape of T-26 tanks, including at least one flamethrower armed tank.
As well as wrecking the Japanese wells the bombardment had also destroyed most if not all of their heavy weapons. With these tanks closing the Japanese had no option but to fall back under the pressure. In the bitter fighting a tank became bogged down in a trench, with nearby Japanese infantry closing in to capture them the tank crew committed suicide which earned them the respect of the Japanese. The loss of the tank, and obtaining the front line towards the end of the day caused the Soviet tankers to withdraw. The lack of armour meant the Japanese were able to launch an assault and drive the Soviets from their lines.

The night also brought about a temporary answer to the lack of water. The soldiers mopped up dew with rags, then chewed on them.

For the next five days the Soviets threw in attack after attack, fresh reinforcements were thrown at Fui Heights supported by bombardments. Zhukov himself said the defenders were “more a obstinate resistance than we thought it could provide”. Zhukov was critical of the way the commander on that front was acting and replaced him on the 21st, insisting that he should have bypassed the battle. However now that battle was joined the Soviets had to commit more reserves. Eventually most of the Russian reserves for the entire operation were committed. By the end of the battle the Soviets had committed a rifle division, at least three tank brigades, two cavalry regiments and an airborne brigade, the latter was the last reserve the Soviets had.
The Japanese armed with only bayonets, rifles and grenades, and with no heavy weapons fought the Soviets to a stand still.
All was not well on the Japanese side, tanks were able to operate freely within their lines, including flame tanks. They'd not seen any form of resupply of food, water or ammunition. On the 23rd, at 1600, the telephone lines to headquarters were cut, on the same day the wireless sets were destroyed. The only thing slowing the Soviet advance was frequent bayonet charges. On the 24th at 0700 Lt Col Ioki had to pull his command post back in the face of Soviet advances. A trench being used as an aid post was defended only by the wounded armed with pistols, the entire trench was machine-gunned.
In the afternoon a meeting of all the officers was held. At its heart was the dilemma. The Detachment had been ordered to hold this location, however the position was untenable. Lt Col Ioki had his duty of care to his men conflicting with his orders. His force was down to under 200 men. Lt Col Ioki tried to shoot himself, however, Captain Tsuji Kiyoshi wrestled the pistol from his grasp. In the end, at 1600 the retreat was ordered, with the aim of returning to HQ, re-arming and coming back to deal with the Soviets.
The men too wounded to move were given grenades to prevent capture. The walking wounded were to be escorted out. The Japanese forces huddled near their jumping off point with each man clutching the belt of the man in front and slept. If they had let go then they would have missed the signal to move out. The only thing to wake them was the last of the rations being handed out. A bag of rice was passed down the lines, each soldier would nibble a few dry grains then collapse back into a fatigued sleep.

Originally the retreat was scheduled to start at 2200, but due to the moon being too bright the movement didn't start until 0230. At 0330 they ran into some sentries that tried to resist and were quickly dispatched. However tanks were seen nearby moving about looking for the escapee's with searchlights. Despite being in the open as dawn broke the Japanese force managed to escape. Upon reaching safety the soldiers collapsed with exhaustion, many were too fatigued to eat from the rice balls or drink from the canteens given to them.

But the tragedy didn't end there. The next bit is hard to explain, and really needs a lot more space than this paragraph. Article 43 of the Imperial Japanese Army Penal Code gave the punishment for “Quitting a position without cause” as death. However the “without cause” part was ignored within the IJA's culture. To any western observer losing 73% of your core force, being surrounded without food, water or ammo resupply for five days is cause to retreat. The Japanese of the time saw it differently.

Michitaro Komatsubara, the officer commanding the front, blamed Ioki's failure to hold the Fui Heights as the reason that his entire front unravelled. Despite the fact that the position ceased to be an anchor to the line a few hours after the general Soviet offensive, or the fact that the Japanese troops were outnumbered, had no armour of their own and lacked logistical support. No, according to Komatsubara it was all Lt Col Ioki's fault for retreating. The senior officer declared that if the Detachment had dug trenches along its flanks it could have held, despite the Detachment doing just this. Komatsubara also claimed that Lt Col Ioki had behaved badly for not apologising for his retreat, despite there being some evidence he did (manners were of critical importance in the Japanese officer corps). To that end, Komatsubara began to bully Lt Col Ioki. First of all he sent a staff officer with orders to convince Ioki to commit suicide. The staff officer was sympathetic to Ioki's plight but was under orders. So for an hour each day he “advised” Ioki. Then Komatsubara sent his Chief Medical Officer. Who also “advised” Ioki, stating that he was soon to die from his advanced diabetes, or the wound in his leg.
On the night of the 16th/17th of September Ioki Eiichi shot himself in the temple. This was a major scandal throughout the IJA, but only two high ranking officers openly came out on the side of Lt Col Ioki. In the end Komatsubara failed to live up to his own ideals, treating Ioki's widow with contempt in their correspondence.
After his death a sympathetic officer tried to submit an amended after action report stating that Lt Col Ioki was killed in action. Amending reports often happened to hide a disgrace from a family such as someone being taken prisoner, such losses were often marked as KIA to spare the families shame. The amended report was rejected by Komatsubara.

One other officer came under similar pressure, and in the end also committed suicide. This officer was Captain Tsuji Kiyoshi, whose only crime was to prevent Lt Col Ioki from shooting himself in a shell hole on Fui Heights.

Image credits:
www.avalanchepress.com, www.armchairgeneral.com, warfarehistorynetwork.com and www.ww2incolor.com