Overlord'S Blog: Light Tank Regiment to the Guns!
In 1939 there was a clash of armoured forces bigger than any seen in the previous 20 years. However this wasn't the invasion of Poland, in September. But another almost forgotten war in July. The numbers now look insignificant and are overshadowed by the Second World War that happened just two months later. But today I'll be having a look at one action of that war.
From May until August 1939 The soviet union and the Japanese forces were engaged in a war. It was over the exact line of the border, between their two vassal states of Mongolia and Manchuria. The Japanese referred to it by the name of a nearby village of Nomonhan, the Soviets named it after the River, Khalkhin Gol.
The Soviets built up massive numbers of tanks, men and artillery and ended the war crushing the Japanese forces. However at the start of the conflict the Japanese forces were doing all the attacking, and came close to winning.
As this war was their first against a modern well equipped opponent the Japanese learnt allot of lessons they later employed. To the end of gaining experience they deployed a force of around 80 tanks to the front in two tank regiments.
Colonel Tamada's 4th Tank regiment was one of those deployed. The vast majority of the regiment was made up by Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks, although the 4th Company had 8 Type 89 Yi-Go Medium tanks.
The Japanese forces at Nomonhan were plagued by problems. Some of which were self inflicted. Commander's world view and wishful thinking, lack of intelligence, poor communications and utterly inadequate logistics all helped to defeat the Japanese forces.
These issues were demonstrated in the run up to the 4th Tank regiments first action. Logistics were so bad the tanks almost ran out of fuel, and it wasn't until more was airlifted to them that they could continue advancing. When preparing their plan of attack the commanders of the two tank regiments were shown a map, which had only rough enemy positions on it as the map was at least three days old. Equally they were assured that the Soviets were preparing to withdraw by the local infantry commander.
It should be noted that almost every order the Japanese commanders issued mentioned that the Soviets were preparing or in the process of withdrawing, when this never was the case.
The plan called for both tank regiments to advance abreast of each other to seize an elevation with some infantry supporting them. Things went badly almost immediately, Soviet artillery began to hammer the 3rd tank regiment, stripping their infantry support and knocking some Japanese tanks out. Despite this they made some small gains then retired from the battlefield.
The 4th Regiment had different luck. While navigating an area of rolling sand dunes the 4th regiment became disoriented. This was down to several factors, including maps being too small, no land marks to use as references and compasses being distorted by the tanks armour plate. The 4th Regiment tried to stick to the low ground to avoid being exposed the enemy fire. This meant they moved South East instead of directly East, and missed the objective they were heading for.
As the tanks advanced they used their machine guns to hose down any bush that might occupy an Anti-tank gun, then began to engage enemy armorued cars at long range. As dusk fell the Soviets knew some Japanese forces were in that area and began to shell them with 122mm howitzers. Ten guns fired over 100 shells, for no effect. The had Japanese pulled back into some dead ground, but kept shifting their positions to avoid the bombardment. One Japanese tanker tells of how a shell landed just behind his tank showering him with dirt. So he ordered his tank to move, as it did so another shell landed exactly where he had been parked.
As night fell Col Tamada reviewed his position. He knew were the enemy artillery was located, simply from the direction the shells were coming from, that was all the information on the enemy he had.
The training manuals clearly stated that tanks should only operate at night with infantry support, and even then no more than a platoon at a time. Equally his regiment had never undergone any night training of any sort.
On the other hand his regiment hadn't taken any casualties nor had it inflicted any serious damage. Knowing how risky it was he ordered an unsupported night attack against a dug in and prepared enemy position.
With his medium tanks in the lead, followed by his Command group. Col Tamada had a company of Type 95 Ha-Go's on each flank and one bringing up the rear as a reserve. He kept the unit close together, to make command and control easier using hand signals. This was in part due to Soviet radio transmissions being so powerful they cut across the frequencies the Japanese used rendering their radios useless. One officer, to amuse himself Started yelling in Japanese at any Soviet that appeared on his Radio. To ease identification Col Tamada ordered every tank to fly a large Japanese flag from their radio antenna.
Col Tamada also ordered the enemy to be destroyed by any means the individual tank commanders thought necessary or could come up with, even to go as far as suggesting the tanks headlight be used to blind the enemy!
At 2300 the Japanese launched their charge for the guns. The first picket line of infantry was reached. As the tanks rampaged through the lines some tank commanders stood in their hatch shooting at Soviet soldiers with their pistols.
At about midnight a massive thunderstorm broke. With rapid lightning strikes, which all missed the tanks, although one Tank commander says they hit something near by his tank. The strobe of lightning illuminated the Soviet positions, and the roar of thunder covered the noise the tanks made as they approached the enemy main line.
Although the thunder and lightning helped the Japanese, the torrential rain that poured down was so overwhelming tank commanders found it impossible to see or breathe. Many donned their gas masks as protection.
Under the cover of the storm the headlong rush of the Japanese tankers hit the dug in Soviets. One tank was knocked out by Soviet fire, however by that point the Japanese were under the artilleries minimum gun depression. Trench lines were over run and caused to collapse. Any gun or artillery piece that was found was deliberately pushed over by the tanks, then crushed. While the gunners poured fire into any ammunition stocks they could see. Many of those ammo piles detonated adding to the confusion.
By 0200 three batteries of Soviet artillery had been utterly wiped out and the Japanese thrust had ripped a kilometer through the Soviet position. Finding themselves in a lull the 4th Regiment regrouped. Knowing that the enemy would be retaliating soon, and that dawn was less than two hours away Col Tamada ordered his tanks to withdraw back to their own lines. They managed that without any enemy contact.
Taking stock after the battle they found that they had lost a single Type 95 Ha-Go and one soldier killed. Nine men had also been wounded, from a total of 44 tanks and 315 men. The Soviets had come off far worse, losing twelve 122mm artillery pieces, ten armoured cars, two BT tanks, seven towed anti-tank guns, two companies of infantry, five medium mortars and twenty trucks.